E is for Emilio Sosa, Mr. Broadway, costume designer

Emilio Sosa, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who grew up in the South Bronx, has been a costume designer for the theater for more than two decades — and, since July of 2021, the chair of the American Theatre Wing. If the clothing by this latest in my  Broadway Alphabet Series has gone beyond Broadway – he’s designed for the Rockettes, for the movies, for more than three dozen shows Off-Broadway; he makes custom clothing under the label ESosa — this year marks not just the twentieth anniversary of his Broadway debut, but his increasing presence on Broadway, with three shows planned this season alone: 1776, Ain’t No Mo, and  A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical.

“I didn’t plan to be a costume designer for Broadway or for glittery shows….” It was “sheer kismet.”:

Top Dog/Underdog, 2002

The Pulitzer Prize winning play by Suzan-Lori Parks was Emile Sosa’s first gig as a costume designer Off-Broadway, in 2001, and then it transferred to Broadway the following year. In his review of the play, Ben Brantley singled out “the astute costume designer,” detailing the “magical marvel” of the actor Jeffrey Wright “bringing a Lincolnesque stovepipe hat to autonomous life. Clothes make the man in ‘Topdog’ in telling and novel ways.”

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, 2012

The first of Sosa’s two nominations for a Tony Award.

“I like sweat, dirt and stains,” Sosa told Lizzie Simon in the Wall Street Journal. “Porgy wasn’t about being pretty, but about finding beauty in the everyday.” This required an elaborate process. “Everything was hand painted. Costumes don’t just appear like they’ve been worn for 15 years unless you paint them to look that way.”

For this production, Sosa created some 150 different designs for characters ranging from Bess to Sporting Life, sketching each of them.

Motown The Musical, 2013

“For the Motown show, Mr. Sosa designed nearly 400 costumes for characters including Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson. And, of course, he designed some dazzlers for Ms. Ross, or rather, for Valisia LeKae, the actress who portrays her. They include a red silk dress with yards of beaded fringe and a blinding white gown covered in silver and gold bugle beads, looks that were made with Swarovski crystals. There are so many beads that just one dress took four weeks to complete.” (NYTimes)

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, 2014

On Your Feet, 2015

Trouble in Mind, 2021. Nominated for a Tony Award in costume design.

Ayanna Prescod in Variety: “Emilio Sosa’s dazzling costume design dresses the cast in colors that amplify their skin tones and conjures the era by prioritizing elegance and formality.”

Skeleton Crew, 2022

Jesse Green in NY Times: “The costumes, by Emilio Sosa, provide both psychology and sociology even in a limited range of sartorial gestures: a “Juicy” sweatshirt for Shanita, a fleece sweater-vest for Reggie.”

(Venus, Off Broadway, 2017)

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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