It's not often that an award winner actually works with the award's namesake, but that's how costume designer Florence Klotz began her career; she was an assistant to Irene Sharaff on The King and I, followed by A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Of Thee I Sing, Do Re Mi, Flower Drum Song, and Juno. She also assisted Lucinda Ballard, Alvin Colt, Raoul Pene DuBois, and Miles White. “I was waiting because I'm the only one who's received this award who actually worked with Irene,” she says with a chuckle. “And when I accepted my six Tony Awards, I thanked Irene in every speech.”
Harold Prince's It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's Superman was the first show she designed on her own at the urging of Ballard who essentially forced Klotz out of her design studio to strike out on her own. “She said, ‘You're too good to be doing this. Get out and do your own designs.’ And I said, ‘I don't want the responsibility.’” That last production on which she assisted Ballard was a little known show called The Sound of Music.
During the next 30 years, she worked with Prince and won six Tony Awards designing costumes for the director's Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Grind, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Show Boat, her last Tony and last Broadway show. The very last production she worked on was Prince's Whistle Down the Wind by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which closed after its Washington DC tryout in 1997.
Klotz's other Broadway shows include City of Angels, Never Too Late, Take Her She's Mine, The Owl and the Pussycat, Side by Side by Sondheim, On the Twentieth Century, Roza, Rags, Jerry's Girls, and The Little Foxes. She also designed ballets for Jerome Robbins, Madame Butterfly for Chicago Lyric Opera, and Symphony on Ice for John Curry.
Klotz designed for only two movies, Something for Everyone (1970) starring Angela Lansbury and A Little Night Music (1977) starring Elizabeth Taylor, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award, but alas she lost out to the Wookies and robots of Star Wars. “It was the number one movie and my movie was a flop, so you can't compete with that!” she says. “Besides, I wasn't interested in doing films; you're away from home for a long time.”
As for the current state of theatre designing, Klotz says flatly that it's not for her. “Nothing out there interests me,” she says. “I'm not in the 21st century I guess. Most of the silks I worked with don't exist anymore. The kids today don't know the difference if they've never worked with the good stuff.” She added that it's just as well she's not in the business any longer. “My heart goes out to the designers today because a house won't execute a whole show; you have to go from one to another to another. It's too complicated for me.”
Speaking of the kids these days, her advice to up-and-coming designers is simple: “Learn your craft. I worked for 10 years as an assistant and I learned from them,” she says. “You should assist before you think you're a designer because there's a lot of things to learn about how a show works.”
The Irene Sharaff award is presented by the TDF Costume Collection.