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Friday, December 4, 2015

Geeking Out on the Costumes of The Wiz Live

the wiz design
wiz live costumes
Oh yeah. Finally caught The Wiz Live today and bam! The production was fantastic. I expected no less considering the talent, but being the fashion girl that I am; the costume design was what blew me away.

Paul Tazewell's Costume Designs Were Over the Top Fantasy

I loved how costume designer Paul Tazewell brought in all sorts of historic fashion and costume references into this show. If you are a Broadway fan, you are already familiar with his work in shows like "In The Heights" (shout out to my 'hood), "Caroline or Change" and "The Color Purple." The difference is that those productions were grounded in reality. Tazewell's designs for The Wiz were over the top fantasy. (Ironically he had already costumed this production once for high school).

I drooled over Mary J. Blige making an entrance in this cyber-goth ballgown as Eviline. The evil witch silhouette and hair was a bit Queen Elizabeth I, while the rubbery tubes reminded me of The Matrix. Uzo Aduba as Glinda, the good witch, was described by Tazewell as a "ball of light". I don't know if most viewers noticed the lit fibre-optic threads she was wrapped in or the hand embroidered crystals sparkling over her skin or the gold horsehair skirt ruffles that helped them look like they were floating on air.

uzo aduba wiz

While press photos showed the major glamor pieces like the ones above, the supporting cast costumes were just as spectacular. When Dorothy first arrives in Oz, the pleated pieces are reference Japanese designer Issey Miyake. Amber Riley's character AddaPearl had a bright blue contrasting costume that read techno-geisha. She had the voluminous wig flowing coat with medallions that were reminiscent of kimono shapes and Japanese crests without aping them. Designers, THIS is how you design with a culture that you're inspired by, without cultural appropriation. Take the spirit, pay tribute but don't just regurgitate it. Redesign and update.

Speaking of redeeming cultural appropriation, how fabulous was that voguing number at the emerald city? The stage looked like a neon green (and LED embroidered) runway inspired by 1990s Thierry Mugler. However, voguing was NOT Madonna's dance craze. Vogue balls and competing vogue houses originated in African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods with communities that were largely marginalized during gritty times in New York City. The movement hit its peak in the years after The Wiz movie debuted. I caught the end of this era when I first moved to NYC, watching dancers voguing on the top floor of Webster Hall like they were rock stars. This might have been just a creative choice by the director, but others saw it as reclaiming a part of LGBT culture.

In looking back at the original movie version of The Wiz (I not fortunate enough to see the original Broadway version), I was a little disappointed that the NBC production lost all of that grittiness. The movie terrified me as a child, but rewatching it as an adult, I appreciated seeing the real New York locations, a little worn, still edgy. It gave the movie soul. Tony Walton created the costumes for the movie back then. Eviline's costume was still spectacular, though not as glam as Mary J. Blige.

wiz movie costume
original wiz diana ross

The lion's fur was more afro to the 2015's dreads. The tin man was more colorful in Walton's design like he was cobbled together from found metals and cans. Ne-Yo's tin man had an industrial look, but shinier and polished. Michael Jackson's Scarecrow had a wild, boho artist vibe while 2015's scarecrow was made to look like a collage of artsy hipster findings. 

Queen Latifah as the wizard made her entrance in what Tazewell intended to be an androgynous, severe look. Think Grace Jones, but much more green. When she revealed herself towards the end, it was in an elegant, but very mundane look that was almost jarring next to all of the other costumes. She looked like she was an executive who had walked onstage to interrupt the show. Shanice William's Dorothy costume was more of a chic urban school look. She had the cranberry colored moto jacket paired with a high-fashion plaid skirt with the sharpest pleats I have ever seen. I was a little disturbed by uber-masculine Common's sparkling emerald suit, but he still looked hot. 

So thank you for indulging in my nerdgasm over The Wiz Costumes. The show was a mix of my love of NYC club nostalgia, costume and fashion design and geekery over Broadway musicals. I hope the show's success is only the beginning of many more creative collaborations on television.

Costume portraits by Paul Gilmore / NBC, Screenshots from NBC, movie stills Universal Pictures

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