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Paul Tazewell And The Costumes Of Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story

Paul Tazewell And The Costumes Of Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story

A Costume Featurette from Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” featuring 2022 Critics Choice Nominee and Tony Award® and Emmy Award® winning costume designer, Paul Tazewell, has been released.

Directed by Academy Award® winner Steven Spielberg, from a screenplay by Pulitzer Prize® and Tony Award® winner Tony Kushner, “West Side Story” tells the classic tale of fierce rivalries and young love in 1957 New York City. This reimagining of the beloved musical stars Ansel Elgort (Tony); Ariana DeBose (Anita); David Alvarez (Bernardo); Mike Faist (Riff); Brian d’Arcy James (Officer Krupke); Corey Stoll (Lieutenant Schrank); Josh Andrés Rivera (Chino); with Rita Moreno (as Valentina, who owns the corner store in which Tony works); and introducing Rachel Zegler (María). Moreno – one of only three artists to be honored with Academy®, Emmy®, Grammy®, Tony® and Peabody Awards – also serves as one of the film’s executive producers. 

Bringing together the best of both Broadway and Hollywood, the film’s creative team includes Kushner, who also served as an executive producer; Tony Award® winner Justin Peck, who choreographed the musical numbers in the film; renowned Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor and Grammy Award® winner Gustavo Dudamel, who helmed the recording of the iconic score; Academy Award®-nominated composer and conductor David Newman(Anastasia), who arranged the score, Tony Award®-winning composer Jeanine Tesori (Fun HomeThoroughly Modern Millie), who supervised the cast on vocals; and Grammy®-nominated music supervisor Matt Sullivan (Beauty and the BeastChicago), who serves as executive music producer for the film. The film is produced by Spielberg, p.g.a., Academy Award®-nominated producer Kristie Macosko Krieger, p.g.a. and Tony Award®-winning producer Kevin McCollum. “West Side Story” has been adapted for the screen from the original 1957 Broadway show. Original choreography by Jerome Robbins, based on the stage play, book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, play conceived, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, music by Leonard Bernstein. 

From 20th Century Studios, The Walt Disney Company released “West Side Story” in U.S. theaters on December 10, 2021.

In addition to “West Side Story,” Paul Tazewell has designed the costumes for “Harriet” for Focus Features, “Hamilton” for Disney+, HBO Original Film: “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: starring Oprah Winfrey, and both “The Wiz! Live,” and “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert” for NBC.

His Broadway credits include Hamilton; Bring in Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk; Ain’t Too ProudThe Color PurpleDr. ZhivagoMemphisCaroline, or ChangeElaine Stritch at LibertyRussell Simmons’ Def Poetry JamLombardi and Magic/Bird. Revival work includes Side ShowA Streetcar Named DesireJesus Christ SuperstarGuys and DollsA Raisin in the Sun, and On the Town and the upcoming MJ: The Musical and Billy Crystal’s Mr. Saturday Night.

Q & A WITH Paul Tazewell

Q: How do you see your role as costume designer fitting into the larger context of a production or film?

A: I’m in the business of creating characters and, with those characters, helping build a world that supports a story. My work is usually the very first thing an audience encounters when meeting a new character. Think about all the snap judgements you make in everyday life when you encounter someone new. Are you attracted to them? Are they a threat? Are they rich or flat broke? Are they trying to hide something? Or flaunt something?  I’m using all those tools to influence how an audience sees the character.

Q: How does the current state of culture affect your work?

A: It’s omnipresent, because it would be impossible for me to divorce myself from the fact that I’m a modern man living in New York City. All art is a product of its own era. When you see a film that was made in the 1970’s, even if it’s a period piece set in the 18th century, you can still very much see trappings of the 1970’s. So I invite all of those influences to come in and affect my work, so long as it doesn’t throw it off from what the intent is. For something like “West Side Story,” contemporary influences helped me find a new way to see that story, because I didn’t want to recreate what had already been done.

Q: And have you noticed your work come to impact the culture around you?

A: Obviously Hamilton is the easiest example of something I made that has had a clear and enduring impact on popular culture. Whether its people recreating those looks in their own lives and posting about it online or chatter that Kellyanne Conway’s 2017 inauguration outfit seemed to nod at Hamilton, it was thrilling to see the world we created reflected back at us. I think even if you look at something like the success of “Bridgerton”, which also put a contemporary spin on period costumes and placed people of color in traditionally white roles, it’s born out of a zeitgeist moment that Hamilton helped spark. 

Q: When did you first put together the connection between clothing and character?

A: When I was in Junior High, all my friends would go to the mall to hang out and shop, but I was there to sit and watch people. I loved watching them interact with each other or noticing how they behaved when they didn’t know they were being watched. And so much of what I’d focus on was on what they were wearing. With all of that information, I’d try to read them; I wanted to better understand who they were and what they were up to. A costume designer is basically a psychologist and loves clothing.

Q: And is that how you came to costume design? Or did it start with a love of the performing arts?

A: Oh, it started with theater. I was introduced to theater in Junior High, which is when I fell in love with performance. I loved to perform all through high school. And my class would take trips to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, and that was probably the first time I really noticed costume design. Those Stratford costumes were at such a high level of excellence. Then, when I first came to New York it was to study fashion design, but I was also auditioning on the side and attending shows in my spare time. I saw Barnum, Dancin’, Dreamgirls, and Cats. It was a time in which a lot of really big musicals where opening on Broadway.

Q: Can you trace any of your work directly back to those early influences?

A: The first Broadway show I designed was Bring In ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk. At the end of Act I, I put the singer in a white 1920’s cocoon coat. I had this specific image of a 1920’s woman that came directly from Sophisticated Ladies. That image kept coming back to me while I was designing this moment, and it ended up serving Noise/Funk perfectly.

Film

Suzanna, co-owns and publishes the newspaper Times Square Chronicles or T2C. At one point a working actress, she has performed in numerous productions in film, TV, cabaret, opera and theatre. She has performed at The New Orleans Jazz festival, The United Nations and Carnegie Hall. She has a screenplay and a TV show in the works, which she developed with her mentor and friend the late Arthur Herzog. She is a proud member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle and was a nominator. Email: suzanna@t2conline.com

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