Backstage With the ‘Moulin Rouge’ Musical’s Costume Designer

By Raisa Bruner |  July 24, 2019

Zuber, who has worked in costume design for decades and most recently won Tonys for her work on shows including 2018’s My Fair Lady and 2015’s The King and I, is not daunted by the task of bringing the raucous glamour of the famed Moulin Rouge cabaret to life. Zuber studied costume design at the Yale School of Drama and has earned 14 Tony nominations to date. For this show, she worked with specialists in New York, Connecticut, London and Germany for each costume, all based on her fastidious sketches.

Zuber, who has worked in costume design for decades and most recently won Tonys for her work on shows including 2018’s My Fair Lady and 2015’s The King and I, is not daunted by the task of bringing the raucous glamour of the famed Moulin Rouge cabaret to life. Zuber studied costume design at the Yale School of Drama and has earned 14 Tony nominations to date. For this show, she worked with specialists in New York, Connecticut, London and Germany for each costume, all based on her fastidious sketches.

“It’s not period accuracy at all, but it feels like it could be,” she explains to TIME of her approach. “It’s not what the Moulin Rouge was actually like at the time. It’s a fantasy of maybe what it could have been.” Zuber believes the inclusiveness of that fantasy, from the show’s diverse casting to its breadth of influences, is what speaks to audiences. Her designs mix art historical references — like the stately portraits of John Singer Sargent and the impressionistic cabaret scenes of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec — with more modern twists that echo the contemporary music mixed into the show, from Madonna to Beyoncé to Katy Perry. “One of the goals in the costumes was to bring an element of the Moulin Rouge, of Paris, of the Belle Époque, and also a sensuality and a sense that these are artists and people who have a passion and a commitment to their lifestyle and what they believe in,” Zuber says. Other inspirations include My Fair Lady, Marlene Dietrich and Vaudeville, which converge to make a “wonderful mélange,” as Zuber puts it. “A delightful salad of entertainment.”

And then there are the technical details that make the costumes shine onstage. One gown for Satine is decorated with over 3,500 Swarovski crystals, each hand-placed onto the garment by Gonzalez. There are hidden magnetic clasps for seamless mid-scene quick-changes and special supports for shoes that take a beating. There’s a wardrobe assistant whose job is to make sure that all the hosiery is holding up.

“It’s always great for any costume designer to see when the actor becomes the character and embraces their costume,” Zuber says. “And when they let you know that the costume you gave them really helps them be that character? That’s always so thrilling.”