With the much anticipated NBC broadcast of “The Wiz Live!” just days away, we spoke to costume designer Paul Tazewell about the upcoming reenvisioned tale of Dorothy’s magical journey through Oz, and what it’s like creating the look for such memorable characters and an all-star cast.
As it turns out, for the Tony Award-winning designer, “The Wiz” brings Paul back to his own teenage adventures.
“We did ‘The Wiz’ as our spring musical” said Paul, who spoke to NBCBLK from “The Wiz Live!” set. In addition to designing the costumes in his high school production, a 16 year-old Tazewell played the titular character in his native Akron Ohio. “It’s a great kind of full circle experience to be doing this.”
Decades later, Paul has made a career of designing costumes for on and off Broadway productions featuring predominantly Black and Latino casts. Tazewell’s designs in this return to Oz is bound to excite generations old and new to the re-imagined L. Frank Baum classic.
“The fact that it’s happening live, everything about how the costumes are functioning is the same as you would have it for the stage,” says Paul “There are going to be no cuts, no opportunities to stop and go once we are running.”
Tazewell’s work over the past year, researching, drawing and creating costumes for The Wiz has been met with raucous applause and excitement through social media. An alum of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, Paul’s collaborative work is what drives him most, and the blend of talent in front of and behind the scenes feeds into creating memorable costumes.
Among the character’s inspiration in creating their costumes, Paul describes an “androgynous” Wizard of Oz (played by Academy Award-nominated actress Queen Latifah), a “threateningly beautiful” Evillene (Grammy Award-winning recording artist Mary J. Blige) and Glinda the Good Witch (Orange is the New Black Actress Uzo Aduba), whose costume he describes as “a Grounded Ball of Light.”
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Fans of musical theater have no doubt seen his work in the some of the most celebrated stage productions of the past twenty years. Currently, Tazewell’s work drapes the cast of the much lauded hip-hop revolutionary musical “Hamilton.”
His credits also include “Caroline or Change,” “In the Heights,”“The Color Purple,” and the 2004 Tony Award winning production of “Raisin in the Sun” starring Phylicia Rashad and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs. It was during this production Paul Tazewell first collaborated with director Kenny Leon, who reached out to him earlier this year about “The Wiz.”
While Paul admits to a “little bit” of nail biting as the weeks turn to days until the broadcast, he finds the experience “exhilarating.”
“You got people coming from the recording industry, television, film, and theatre” : There’s a huge melting pot from different corners of this business. The one thing we have in common in THE WIZ and what we are trying to create, a magical and spiritual space for everyone to do their best.