Alvin Colt, Tony-Winning Costume Designer, Dead at 92

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
and Robert Simonson
04 May 2008

Alvin Colt
Alvin Colt
Photo by Aubrey Reuben
Alvin Colt, who had one of the most enduring careers of any costume designer on Broadway, and won a Tony Award for the 1955 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Pipe Dream, died May 4 at a Manhattan hospital, according to his press representative. He was 92.

Mr. Colt designed costumes for more than 50 Broadway productions, earning additional Tony nominations for his designs for Phoenix '55, The Lark, Li'l Abner, The Sleeping Prince and Greenwillow. He also designed over 15 shows for Off-Broadway's Phoenix Theatre.

Mr. Colt made his Broadway debut in the early 1940s, designing costumes for the original production of the Leonard Bernstein-Adolph Green-Betty Comden musical On the Town in 1944. About that production, Mr. Colt told Playbill.com in September 2006, "It was a big hit and it got me going on Broadway. I had done a lot of things with the ballet before that. I had worked with all the On the Town people before in ballet like Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein and Oliver Smith. That started it all off."

A handle of lackluster Broadway projects followed his success on On the Town. But a few years later, the creative team of Guys and Dolls recalled Mr. Colt's work on On the Town when the costume designer for their soon-to-be-legendary show wasn't working out.

"At first Guys and Dolls was designed by someone else and it wasn't working. Then someone, I think it was Abe Burrows, said 'Get the guy from On the Town.' In Guys and Dolls, the characters were meant to look like New York people, street people. They weren't all jazzed up." The Frank Loesser musical fable, in which the gangsters and hoodlums were clad in pin-striped suits of exaggerated character, became one of Mr. Colt's most memorable credits. Mr. Colt was the last surviving major member of the Guys and Dolls creative team.



Mr. Colt also employed his skills Off-Broadway when that branch of the New York theatre was just getting started. He was a charter member of the Phoenix Theater, which performed classics and experimental new works out of an old Yiddish theatre on Second Avenue. There, he worked with the likes of Tyrone Guthrie, Sidney Lumet, Uta Hagen and Montgomery Clift.

Mr. Colt's final Broadway design credit was for the short-lived Renée Taylor and Joe Bologna play, If you ever leave me...I'm going with you!, in summer 2001. His other costume design credits included the Broadway productions of Around the World, Barefoot Boy with Cheek, Music in My Heart, Top Banana, Fanny, Finian's Rainbow, Six Characters in Search of an Author, The Sleeping Prince, First Impressions, Destry Rides Again, Wildcat, Here's Love, The Crucible, The Imaginary Invalid, The Goodbye People, Sugar, Lorelei, Jerome Robbins' Broadway and Waiting in the Wings, among others. During his final years in the business, he was frequently employed by producer Alexander H. Cohen.

For 15 years Mr. Colt designed numerous editions of the long-running Off-Broadway revue, Forbidden Broadway. "I enjoy it," he told Playbill.com about his work on the Gerard Alessandrini productions. "It keeps me going. Most of my collaborators are all doing their shows up in heaven or someplace. I don't know a lot of the current bunch and they don't know me. Designers go in cycles. Sometimes they're popular and sometimes they're not. It's part of the crazy business we're in." He received Drama Desk nominations in 1999 and 2005 for his Forbidden designs.

Mr. Colt turned to the theatre for solace early on in his life. "As a little boy, I had my toy theatre in the attic of our house in Kentucky," he said in 2006. "I lost both my mother and father at a young age, but I did have a brother and he knew I wanted to do something in the theatre. So I ended up going to Yale for design. I thought I wanted to be a set designer. I didn't have a BA, so I never got an MA, but I was there for three years. Then I went straight to New York."

His first job was with a theatrical fabric house. He made fifteen dollars a week with commission. He worked summer theatre, painting and holding scenery. One summer he worked with a ballet company and he became interested in costuming.

Mr. Colt also designed for TV and film, although his theatre output was more prolific. Among his screen credits are costume designs for the films "Top Banana," "Stiletto" and "Li'l Abner" and for the TV productions of "The Enchanted Nutcracker," "Kiss Me Kate," "The Adams Chronicles," "The 30th Annual Tony Awards," "CBS: On the Air" and "Happy 100th Birthday, Hollywood."

In 2007 the Museum of the City of New York offered the exhibition "Costumes and Characters: The Designs of Alvin Colt," and the Museum is now the home of the his many costume sketches. Mr. Colt was also the recipient of the TDF/Irene Sharaff Lifetime Achievement Award, and he was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 2001.

Playbill.com will provide information about a memorial service when it becomes available.