In celebration of Sunday's 70th Annual Tony Awards — where eight shows including "Hamilton," "Eclipsed," and "Tuck Everlasting" are up for costume design awards — we spoke with someone who carries an encyclopedic knowledge of Broadway history in his brain: six-time Tony Award winner and 15-time nominee, William Ivey Long. The prolific costume designer has been working basically non-stop since 1978, most recently designed "Grease: Live" for Fox and is working on the network's upcoming "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" starring Laverne Cox.
We tasked Long with rounding up the most memorable Broadway musical costumes of all time. "These are so indelible, I could draw them [from memory]," said Long of what makes a look iconic. "Pretty clothes come and go. Elegant clothes come and go. But the clothes that define the wearer, the character at that moment, in that scene or singing that song, that make them impossible to forget — that’s everyone’s goal."
In the gallery below, Long guides us from 1943's "Oklahoma" to this year's smash hit "Hamilton," highlighting the work of his favorite costumes designers along the way: Miles White, Freddy Wittop, Theoni V. Aldredge, Cecil Beaton, Irene Sharaff, Florence Klotz and more. He also praised several of Patricia Zipprodt's productions, including "Fiddler on the Roof," when she made history by distressing costumes for the very first time. After having the costumes made "beautifully," the designer led a team of people who tore into them with cheese graters and sandpaper. Zipprodt then asked her sewing ladies, who were "in tears" to see the destroyed pieces, to patch them in the way they had learned from their mothers. "They had that old time feeling in their fingers," said Long. "Pat went lady to lady and convinced them and said: Okay, we want this to be real. How would you darn clothes back in Poland? How would repair clothes back in Russia?" The results were authentic and poignant. "It brought this quality to that production that broke your heart. Well of course, the music and the story were paramount, but the clothes were also part of that storytelling.”
As someone well-versed in designing revivals — "I've followed [Zipprodt] and done revivals of her work forever, [as well as] all the greats" — Long focused on the costumes of original productions, but our roundup would not be complete without mention of Long's designs, too, despite his hesitation to add his name to his list of the greats. Long's "Chicago" revival (is in its 21st year on Broadway), "Guys and Dolls" and "Hairspray" costumes are all standouts.
With Long's help, we've called out 23 productions with the most unforgettable costumes. See them all, and get his take, in the gallery below.
Homepage photo: Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library