Theoni V. Aldredge, Costume Designer of Annie, La Cage, A Chorus Line, Dead at 88

By Robert Simonson
and Kenneth Jones
21 Jan 2011

Theoni V. Aldredge
Theoni V. Aldredge

Theoni V. Aldredge, the three-time Tony Award-winning costume designer, died Jan. 21 in a Stamford, CT, hospital after an illness, her husband actor Tom Aldredge announced.

Ms. Aldredge, 88, worked on everything from Shakespeare to Sondheim, but was best known for her designs for musicals. She won Tony Awards for her costumes for the original Broadway productions of Annie, Barnum and La Cage aux Folles. She was Tony-nominated a total of 15 times, and created iconic costumes for such shows as A Chorus Line, Dreamgirls and 42nd Street. She was called on to recreate her simple, yet memorable work for A Chorus Line when the musical was revived in 2006. It was her final Broadway credit.

She was born Theoni Athanasiou Vachlioti on Aug. 22, 1922, in Salonika, Greece, and, despite spending the majority of her life in the U.S., never quite lost her accent. Her mother died when she was five; her father was active in Greek politics and encouraged her to travel. She was educated at the American School in Athens and then went to the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, to which she won a scholarship to study design. There she met actress Geraldine Page, who told her to look her up when she came to New York.

Ms. Aldredge did, and Page remembered her. The designer's first of more than 100 Broadway jobs was creating the costumes for Page in 1959 premiere of Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth. In the next few years, she worked on a long-running comedy, Mary, Mary, the Gore Vidal drama The Best Man and the musical I Can Get It For You Wholesale, which introduced theatregoers to Barbra Streisand. She garbed the actors in the original productions of Any Wednesday, Anyone Can Whistle, Luv, Cactus Flower, A Delicate Balance, Annie, Woman of the Year, The Secret Garden and Barnum.



She frequently worked for producer Joe Papp, where she was the principal designer for more than 20 years. ''Papp made me learn my craft, whether I liked it or not,'' she told the New York Times in 2001. ''He paid me $80 a week. I'd say, 'Joe, that's not enough for my cigarettes.' He'd say, 'You have to stop smoking.' ''

She designed costumes for the landmark premieres of Sticks and Bones, That Championship Season, the musical Two Gentleman of Verona, Short Eyes, and, most famously, A Chorus Line, which began at the New York Shakespeare Festival before transferring to Broadway for a long run. That show also resulted in a long collaboration with director-choreographer Michael Bennett, whose Ballroom and Dreamgirls she worked on. Her showy creations for the Dreamgirls cast were among her most remarkable. Critic Stanley Kauffmann called them "tropical foliage gone artfully insane."

Ms. Aldredge was known for the large budgets her opulent costumes often required, and in recent years she bemoaned the limitations that shrinking funds and rehearsal schedules placed on her art.

According to fellow costume designer, Martin Pakledinaz, she did not possess a big ego and was press shy. "People didn't always realize the scope of her work on Broadway plays and musicals, which I think changed design on Broadway," said Pakledinaz. "Then, she also had an amazing ability to design for movies as diverse at 'Network,' 'The Great Gatsby' and 'Ghostbusters.' But I must admit what she taught me most was respect for actors. She loved actors."

She won Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Costume Design for a 1970 production of Peer Gynt, a 1973 Much Ado About Nothing for the NYSF, Annie, 42nd Street, La Cage Aux Folles and Two Gentleman of Verona. She won an Irene Sharaff Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. Also active in film, she received an Oscar for her work on the 1974 film "The Great Gatsby." Her designs for the movie were adapted for a clothing line sold at Bloomingdale's. Subsequent movie work included "Network," "The Rose," "Annie," "Ghostbusters," "Moonstruck," "Addams Family Values," and "The First Wives Club."

She is survived by her husband. There will be no services. Ms. Aldredge's ashes will be flown to Greece. A family spokesman initially reported Ms. Aldredge's age as 78; this was later corrected to 88.

Playbill.com looks back at Aldredge's work:

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Gene Barry, William Thomas Jr. and George Hearn in La Cage aux Folles
Photo by Martha Swope