The Temptations reigned over the airwaves from the 1950s through the ’70s, and Ain’t Too Proud, the Broadway musical retelling of their story, covers that entire period. One which, not incidentally, involved a lot of changing fashions.
So how does a costume designer show the passage of time in a musical that never slows down? By keeping things simple.
“One of the major challenges in designing the costumes was the fast pace of the whole production,” costume designer Paul Tazewell says. “With the show’s non-stop structure, it was important to relay the passage of time from the early 1950s through to 2019 as specifically as possible with rapid-fire costume changes.”
Combined with Des McAnuff’s direction and Dominique Morisseau’s book, the decades fly by at the Imperial Theatre, where the show is now in its second year. But while Tazewell points out the difference between a musical versus a play comes down to the former relying more heavily on “the costume design to provide a clear visual composition of time, place, and character,” Ain’t Too Proud also carries with it a more particular challenge: How to create stylish suits for The Temptations that allow the performers to execute Sergio Trujillo’s Tony-winning choreography.
“Most often it is about cleverly tailoring the cut of the suit to accommodate for extreme movement,” Tazwell says. “Sometimes it might also help to have a bit of stretch in the fabric, but often that’s not possible with replicating period suits.”
Not that his designs are exact replicas of the era. Rather, Tazewell and McAnuff made stylishness and sexiness the keys to the looks.
“Because of transitions that didn’t allow for costume changes when the year or period changed, there was some license taken in the silhouettes of some of the looks,” Tazwell says. “I think it’s important to have the feel of the design be nostalgic but, because of the overall style of the production, not get bogged down in historical accuracy. The Temptations were trendsetters and known for their flamboyant dressing, but it was very important for me and Des to have them always feel stylish and sexy to the modern audience’s eyes.” And audiences soon to agree—mission accomplished.