For Tony-winning costume designer Paloma Young, her latest Broadway design for the Tony-nominated musical Bandstand looks like a departure from her gritty, resourceful designs for Peter and the Starcatcher (for which she won the Tony) and Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 (for which she earned a Tony nomination May 2). “It’s definitely much more realism than I think people are used to seeing from a lot of my work,” says Young. But in reality, the design is less departure and more homecoming.
The story of WWII veterans returning home to Cleveland, Ohio, after the war—each dealing with their own manifestation of post traumatic stress disorder, Bandstand confronts the unspoken pain of military men. When Donny Novitski assembles the all-vet Donny Nova Band and sets out to win a national radio contest, he proves the power of music to unlock those emotions and heal. Young’s grandfather, Lieutenant Hal Vita, was a navy pilot shot down during the war and was rescued after drifting for nine hours on a life raft. (He was also a trumpet player.)
Now Drama Desk-nominated for her work on Bandstand, Young takes Playbill backstage at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre and into the closet of her carefully curated wardrobe in the video above, and reveals the inspiration behind the colors, textures, and construction of Bandstand.
“It’s about post-war trauma,” says Young of the musical. “It’s about trying to pretend that you’re not feeling that trauma and not knowing how to express yourself to the world. A lot of my fabric choices and color choices are about tracking the moods and the psychological transformations our characters go through.”
Young used only vintage military uniforms onstage. Her attention to detail and the adjustments she made to reflect true military dress is another contributing factor to Bandstand’s historic accomplishment as the first stage show to ever be certified as an authentic portrayal of veterans by Get Your 6. In fact, Young assured authenticity down to the minutae unnoticeable to the audience. “[Donny] is actually wearing one dog tag that is his dog tag, and one that is Michael’s [his war buddy lost in battle],” says Young of the character played by Corey Cott. “He was wearing them ‘kissing,’ like together, whereas they’re supposed to be worn in two separate parts in your regimental context.”
Aside from uniforms, Young wanted to evoke authenticity of post-war memory. “I look for things that felt like brainwaves and like static,” she says of her fabric choices in tweeds and other grainy textures. “I wanted it to feel like a photograph that has been scratched on the surface a little bit.”
The sepia tones of old photographs played into her color palette, as did the tones of battlefield pictures: “greeney, grayish uniforms with (in truth) exploded bodies with pink and maroon.” Unconsciously, Young says she gravitated towards those hues, “I realized that the pictures of dresses and suits that I was picking had sprung from those dusty greens and dusty peaches.”
Young also had to keep in mind one formidable obstacle: “Andy Blankenbuehler’s amazing choreography. A lot of the things from the actual ’40s would not allow the sort of leg movement that this choreography requires,” says Young.
Be sure to check out the behind-the-scenes video for even more design secrets, quick-change magic, and a look inside the star dressing rooms of Laura Osnes and Corey Cott.