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Broadway fashion designer still active at 90

Broadway costume designer Alvin Colt, 90, poses July 13, 2006, in New York.

india Updated: Aug 19, 2006 14:09 IST

At 90, Alvin Colt still looms large in the theatre world. The man who designed the costumes for the original Broadway productions of such classics as Guys and Dolls and On the Town may no longer be working on the biggest musicals.

But, as his witty costumes for the Forbidden Broadway series attest, the decades haven't dulled Colt's skill or his sense of humour. "He's a legend," said well-known designer Bob Mackie, a longtime admirer of Colt's.

"There's just a wonderful sense of every day as an adventure. He keeps working. He does shows. If he gets asked, he'll do it. "He's amazing. I don't know if I'll be doing that when I'm 90."

The career of the approximately 6-foot-7 (2-meter) Kentucky native is certainly an enviable one. A drama graduate from Yale University and member of the Theatre Hall of Fame since 2001, Colt is a Tony winner and has been nominated for multiple Emmy Awards.

He has worked on and off-Broadway, in plays and musicals, revues and dance, television and film. And he doesn't plan to stop anytime soon. "My big problem right now is that all of my collaborators producers and directors and choreographers, people that I've done lots of things with, are gone," Colt said during a recent interview in his spacious and airy midtown Manhattan apartment. "They're either gone or retired, which is a word I don't like."

His work, with its trademark wit and sometimes mischievous bawdiness, has inspired many young designers and still receives laudatory reviews today. Mackie recalls when he was young that he would look at photos in Life magazine of the Hot Box Girls from Guys and Dolls and be impressed with the sexiness and the fun that their outfits seemed to signify.

Broadway costume designer Alvin Colt, 90, poses for shutterbugs on July 13, 2006, in New York.

 (AP Photo)

"My most vivid memories of the time were of shows that he had done, though I didn't realise it at the time, of course," said Mackie, who has known Colt for about 35 years.

For Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit, the latest in the long-running series that spoof the biggest, or most notorious, shows on Broadway, many critics pointed to Colt's costumes as one of the production's highlights.

Whether it's outfitting one of the knights from Spamalot in a suit covered with containers of Spam or perching a Mickey Mouse doll atop the head of an actor portraying Rifiki from The Lion King, Colt's costumes in Forbidden Broadway manage to tweak the shows being spoofed without sacrificing quality _ or humor.

"We get Broadway-caliber costumes with tremendous wit," said Gerard Alessandrini, the creator, writer and director of Forbidden Broadway. "He's very good about finding where to heighten the realism. Sometimes when the writing fails to garner the laughs, the costumes do, so I'm appreciative."

But Colt has been much more than simply a clever designer throughout his long career. He has worked on plays by William Shakespeare, Eugene O'Neill, Anton Chekhov and Henrik Ibsen, and has collaborated with the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein.

The first Broadway show on which he worked was in 1944, On the Town, which featured music by Leonard Bernstein, book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and choreography by Jerome Robbins.

Colt has fond memories of many of the famed shows in which he's been involved, though there remains a soft spot in his heart for other productions that didn't receive the same praise.

He pointed to the 1960 Frank Loesser musical, Greenwillow, starring Anthony Perkins, as a show he thought would perform better. "You want them all to last," Colt said. But rather than sit back and enjoy his success, Colt has remained active.

It may be one reason that, folded into a chair in the living room of his apartment and dressed stylishly in all black, Colt looks a good two decades younger than he is. His hair is dark and, though he uses a cane, he still moves around easily. He is quick to laugh, although friends note it is no longer the booming sound that once filled up rooms at parties.

The decor of his apartment belies little of his theater pedigree. There is almost no memorabilia beyond some scattered photographs of various actresses. He does have two framed posters one from each of the Night of 1000 Stars productions he did which bear the autographs of such show business luminaries as Bette Davis and Lauren Bacall.

And then there is his collection of giraffes, which he's been accumulating for years because of his own resemblance to the animal.

There are figurines and pictures of the animal in various spots throughout the apartment, including a birthday card from Mackie bearing a picture of a giraffe just inside the front door.

First Published: Aug 19, 2006 14:09 IST