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Tony Suffs-nominated costume designer Paul Tazewell knows how to dress American history | The buzz of Broadway

Tony Suffs-nominated costume designer Paul Tazewell knows how to dress American history |  The buzz of Broadway
Tony Suffs-nominated costume designer Paul Tazewell knows how to dress American history |  The buzz of Broadway


Paul Tazewell
(Photo by Sergio Villarini for

Costume designer Paul Tazewell is a seasoned Tony Awards veteran, earning the ninth nomination of his career this season for his work on Shaina Taub's landmark musical. Suffer. The play follows Alice Paul and her fellow suffragists from 1912 until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 (with a brief foray into the 1970s) – a very different period from the late 18th century that it captured with a winning effect for Tony in his creations for Hamilton. Despite this, there is a sense of serendipity around Tazewell's return to the realm of American history, which, once again, challenged the designer to finely balance period authenticity and theatricality modern.

Emily Skinner as Alva Belmont in “Suffs”
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

“As a designer, I always look at fashion and trends,” Tazewell told The Broadway Show during a behind-the-scenes tour of his creations. “But when I'm exploring a specific year or period, I'm drawn to the style that appeals to me and aligning it with the character.”

Research, of course, comes first – and for many of the musical's characters, archival photographs were close at hand. This well of images allowed him to capture details such as famous socialite Alva Belmont's affinity for fur and millinery (Emily Skinner is the actress flaunting her elegant outfits), with every detail down to the buttons carefully selected. “I tell you, this production is full of pimples,” he half-joked. But fidelity to history is no excuse for limp storytelling. Rather than exact recreations, Tazewell's goal as a designer was to find the place where historical accuracy, his own aesthetic sensibilities, and his actors' character work met. And artistic freedoms are anything but hidden.

“There was actually a picture of her on a white horse,” Tazewell noted, referring to Inez Milholland (played by Hannah Cruz), who majestically rode a white horse through the streets of Washington, D.C. in the parade for women's right to vote in 1913. In the musical, image becomes inseparable from character, with director Leigh Silverman creating both her own stage image during “The March” and arranging for a giant projection of the photo looks at the audience throughout the intermission. “The photo was what she was actually wearing,” Tazewell said, pointing to the gold bib and Greek crown Cruz wears on stage. “I took that idea and tried to turn it into a more theatrical presentation. It gives you that Joan of Arc or Athena quality.”

By the time the audience leaves the Music Box Theater, Milholland has transformed from an unknown historical figure into a real-life superhero. And as Tazewell learned during his last stint with the Tales That Built America, visionary storytelling can transform a lifeless piece of history into a cultural flash.

Watch Tazewell's full interview below.




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