The sheen of the green satin ensemble reflects light under the gallery’s bulbs, quietly drawing attention to itself. To the layperson, the getup looks like nothing more than a simple, albeit, meticulously crafted, Colonial Era outfit. But those with a discerning eye and love of theater would instantly recognize the multi-piece suit as the costume worn by Lin Manuel-Miranda from the original run of the hit Broadway show, Hamilton.
“Really what I had anticipated was some original renderings and maybe two or three costumes,” says Jeff Horney, the executive director of Theatre Art Galleries in High Point. “But the next thing I know, we’ve got 15 costumes being flown in from New York and Chicago.”
About a week before the opening, Horney and Ben Klemes, an installation assistant and costume designer, are busy putting together a new show that opens at the Theatre Art Galleries on Thursday. The exhibit, entitled, Tazewell: Three Generations/Three Voices, showcases three artists across three generations and includes Paul Tazewell, the renowned costume designer whose portfolio includes designs for Hamilton, The Wiz Live, Jesus Christ Superstar Live, Showboat and The Miracle Worker, to name a few. All five productions are represented in the new show. The other two exhibits showcase work by Tazewell’s mother, Barbara Tazewell, and his nephew, Nate Tazewell, an up-and-coming illustrator.
Inside the 3,000 square-foot main gallery space, housed within the High Point Theatre, Tazewell’s dazzling ensembles fit on mannequins that have been personally sculpted by Klemes for proper display.
“When we knew the costumes were coming, we figured, Well, we’ll just open the box and put them on a mannequin and you’re good to go,” says Horney. “I mean it is so involved. This is really museum-quality presentation…The amazing thing about these costumes is the amount of detail you would never see from your seat in the theater, but you get to see up close the quality of the detail of these costumes and how durable they have to be for eight shows a week.”
Paul Tazewell, who will be joined by his mother and nephew for the opening night of the exhibit on Thursday, says in a phone interview that when he was younger, he initially wanted to be an actor.
“I wanted to be a leading man and as a black kid in America at the time, it didn’t seem as feasible to have a regular role in that,” says Tazewell, who was born in the 1960s. “I didn’t see a lot of African-American protagonists and heroes.”
Creativity filled Tazewell’s childhood home in Akron, Ohio. His mother, who continues to create art, often worked with her hands, making vibrant, mixed-media collages or imaginative watercolor paintings. In the upper gallery, many of Barbara’s creations line the walls, awaiting installation. Fantastical images depicting religious tales or children’s stories make up self-published books while whimsical marionettes lay delicately on the floor. One of the puppets, created in tandem with her son, shows a Scrooge-meets-Benjamin Franklin-esque man in luxurious velvet attire — a possible forerunner to the designs that Tazewell would one day create for his most successful show.
“She was definitely a huge influence on my creative mind,” Tazewell says about his mother. “I learned to draw from her as I was growing up and that evolved into developing an interest in sewing and clothing.”
Tazewell learned to create costumes for shows during his time as an actor in school productions. Once he began attending undergrad at the UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, Tazewell says he switched his primary career path to costume design.
“I thought, Well, if I pursue designing, then I won’t be typecast,” he says.
Since his time at the School of the Arts and then New York University, Tazewell has created works for dozens of productions. In 2016, he won a Tony Award — his seventh nomination overall — for costume design for Hamilton and also won an Emmy for his work on The Wiz Live! Some of his recent work can be seen in the recently released Harriet and Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, which will be released next December.
He says he almost always starts his creative process with research.
“I would go to the library and immerse myself in an area and just respond to the imagery,” Tazewell says. “A large part of the research happens online through Pinterest, Google Images, and archives.”
For Harriet, Tazewell looked to old daguerreotypes from the 1800s to see what kinds of attire people wore. For Hamilton, he studied old paintings of our forefathers. Still, other pieces appear to come straight from the artist’s imagination.
In the back-right corner of the gallery, large, stunning outfits — arguably the most embellished ones in the show — lure visitors in.
Worn by Queen Latifah for the 2015 television special The Wiz Live!, a sparkling, green gown, complete with individually sewn pieces of tiny emeralds, looks like a wearable manifestation of Frank L. Baum’s Emerald City. Next to it stands an equally captivating costume for the good witch Glinda, worn by Uzo Aduba. Waves of gold circle the skirt of the dress, reminiscent of Belle’s gown from Beauty and the Beast but more extravagant. Thin silver tendrils snake across the garment, adding a wispiness overall. In the production, the threads illuminated, Horney explains.
Nearby, a large photo of The Wiz Live! cast members in their respective costumes displays how the final product looked on each of the actors.
The exhibit also includes several original sketches and renderings by Tazewell.
It seems that now, the successful designer has no regrets about choosing this line of work over acting.
“I am be able to live vicariously through all different types of characters regardless of age, race, gender,” he says. “That was the best decision.