Florence Klotz (1920-2006) the only Broadway costume designer to have won six Tony Awards, all of them for musicals – Follies (1971), A little Night Music (1973) Pacific Overtures (1976), Grind (1985), Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993), and Showboat (1995), all were directed by Harold Prince. Working with Mr. Prince and other directors, Ms. Klotz has amassed and impressive array of credits which represent the cutting edge of musical theatre.
A native of New York, Ms. Klotz studied art at Parsons School of Design, she then worked at Brooks, the costume house, as a fabric painter. Ms. Klotz began her costume design career in 1951 as an assistant to Irene Sharaff, who designed the costumes for Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's The King and I. It was during this show when she met her companion, Ruth Mitchell, who would later go on to co-produce Broadway shows with Hal Prince and Jerome Robbins such as Cabaret and Fiddler on the Roof. Florence and Ruth were together, until Ruth’s passing, for the next half century.
In 1961, she began designing shows herself. Her first musical, in 1966 with Mr. Prince, was It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman. This was followed by Follies (1972), A Little Night Music (1973), Pacific Overtures (1976), On the Twentieth Century (1978), A doll’s Life (1982), Grind (1983), Roza (1986), Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993) Showboat (1995). Other non-Prince shows include the 1981 revival of The Little Foxes (starring Elizabeth Taylor), the 1986 musical Rags, and the 1989 smash hit City of Angels.
She also worked with Jerome Robbins, designing costumes for Madama Butterfly for the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the film version of A Little Night Music. She became friendly with actress Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Little Foxes, for which Klotz was nominated for an Academy Award — Taylor asked Klotz to design the lavender dress she wore for her wedding to Senator John Warner in 1976.
Ms. Klotz’s many achievements are dazzling. In Follies, she created larger-than-life costumes for ghostly showgirls who haunted the dark recesses of Boris Aronson’s decayed theatre setting. In Pacific Overtures, she invented a Kabuki actor’s version of Uncle Sam for a stunning dance sequence. In City of Angeles, she used a richly colorful palette for the show’s “real” Hollywood characters and confined herself to black and white for sequences from the “film” written by the show’s protagonist. In Kiss of the Spider Woman, distressed prison uniforms for the male characters meet campy, revealing, outrageous outfits for Aurora, a character who is both an icon of movie glamour and an angel of death.
Show Boat may be Ms. Klotz’s biggest project yet, with over 500 costumes for 72 actors in a show, which spans 40 years of American history. Beginning in late-1880s Mississippi, the action sends several characters through decades of heartbreak and separation, leading to a Jazz Age finale in the late 1920s. Mr. Prince’s production uses choreographed sequence to bridge the time gaps in the narrative, and we see years passing as characters cross the stage in ever-evolving fashions: Bustles shrink, then fade. Hemlines rise inexorably. Men’s outfits go from stripped pants, checkered coats, and wide lapels to dark solid tones, and a more conservative cut.
Ms. Klotz is known for her use of bright colors. In film, she says, “the camera does the work for you, to push your eye into whatever direction it wants you to go.” Onstage, however, she uses color “to tell you this is what you should look at now. That’s the important person, right in the middle of the stage. So I am the camera, hopefully.”