Anyone passing West 45th Street in Manhattan on the evening of July 12 would have witnessed an amazing sight. More than 200 people had gathered at the north end of Shubert Alley, spilling out into the street. Then, at 8 p.m., the marquee lights of all the Broadway theatres began turning off, one by one. The crowd started applauding wildly, then chanting in unison, “Martin! Martin! Martin!”
Just four days before, Broadway had lost a magnificent artist and a true gentleman of the theatre, the brilliant costume designer Martin Pakledinaz. The crowd that gathered to celebrate Martin’s life that night included actors, producers, writers, directors and a coterie of the best designers on Broadway. But most were from the shops—the dedicated men and women who brought Marty’s uniquely detailed and colorful visions to life.
Marty was all about detail and color. He worked in every possible theatrical medium from plays to musicals to opera to ballet to modern dance. He loved actors and he made everyone feel like a star. Marty made sure that everyone looked beautiful, but he also made sure that they felt beautiful.
I had the privilege of working with Marty on six Broadway shows as well as many other productions Off Broadway and regionally. He was my dear, true creative collaborator, a constant source of encouragement and a most enthusiastic cheerleader. He was a tall, handsome man with a wicked sense of humor, a mischievous grin and the best laugh ever.
We worked together so much that it’s hard to pick out special moments. But certain designs come to mind that speak to his incredible talent, his genius for creating character and his strong sense of storytelling.
When the curtain went up on the final scene of Kiss Me, Kate, the ensemble was dressed in beautiful Renaissance costumes with dramatic, long, full sleeves with just a hint of red. And then Marin Mazzie entered as Kate wearing the most stunning dress of multiple shades of red silk, an image of both strength and femininity. That dress pulled the whole picture together and made for an ideal ending to the show.
Donna Murphy’s dresses in Wonderful Town made her look totally smart, sharp, all business and no-nonsense when she stood still. But when she moved—and boy, did she move—they allowed her bend, stretch, contort and conga herself into all kinds of wild positions. Marty’s designs for Donna let her Ruth Sherwood be sophisticated one moment and wacky the next—just like Marty, come to think of it.
I remember going to Marty’s studio to look at fabrics for The Pajama Game. It was always fun to go to Marty’s studio because he was such a great host. He would greet you like a majordomo and serve drinks, grapes and cookies. In the number “Hernando’s Hideaway,” the characters are factory workers out for a night on the town—not sophisticated, glamorous people, but it was a big production number. Marty was a genius at creating clothes real people could wear, but adding that touch of heightened glamour and theatricality—clothes that could really dance.
At our first dress rehearsal for Grease, I remember José Restrepo coming over to me with a big smile on his face. “Look at my socks,” he said, and he pulled up his trousers to reveal one sock with little hearts on it and one sock with little hammers. “Because I’m a heartbreaker,” José grinned. That’s the kind of detail that Marty relished—something that the audience might never see, but the actor would know.
I love how Marty described Sutton Foster’s opening costume in Anything Goes—he called it “the color of whiskey.” Sutton made her first appearance as Reno Sweeney in a gold, sparkling, long-sleeved blouse with a long cognac satin skirt—very sophisticated and glamorous. But then she sat on a bar stool, threw open a slit in the skirt and crossed those impossibly long legs, and we knew we were in for a sexy and surprising evening.
Our last collaboration was the Broadway musical Nice Work If You Can Get It. This was a show that we were creating from scratch and that we had been dreaming about for several years. Marty was fighting his illness, but he soldiered on and created some of his most delightful, whimsical and stylish costumes ever. As we started previews, his eyesight was weakening, so he would sit in the front box house left, close to the stage, leaning on his cane, looking like a 19th-century impresario. At production meetings, he would sit patiently, like some very stylish Buddha, and then give a note that was so specific, so accurate and so perfect. It was vintage Marty, giving his all to his art.
Of all the designs Marty created, I do admit to having a favorite: my wedding dress. Marty’s design made me feel like a star, a princess, a leading lady. To have Marty shine his unique light on me, to reflect the glow of his warmth, love and astonishing talent, is something I shall treasure forever.
Director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall won Tony Awards for her choreography of Anything Goes, The Pajama Game and Wonderful Town.
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