Fun Home on Broadway is soooo good that we’ve seen it twice in just a few weeks. The show is nominated for 12 Tony Awards this weekend, with the show’s scenic designer David Zinn up for his work in the musical, and he’s got an additional nom for best costume designer of a play for Airline Highway. We recently rang up the ‘fashion obsessed’ designer, who also costume-designed the show, to talk Tony’s, Anna, and his take on why the show is connecting with audiences.
How do you find out about two getting two Tony nominations?
I get very superstitious and kind of paranoid about awards stuff, but I was really hoping that Fun Home was going to do well. So, my response to that was just to ignore it as long as I could on the day that the nominations were announced. I was driving on the New Jersey Turnpike and so I was very like, “Ha ha! I don’t care. Look at me! I’m not looking at my phone.” 8:30 a.m. went by…and then 9:00 a.m. went by…but at 9:20 a.m., I decided to look at my phone. There were a lot of texts and a lot saying congratulations, but nobody was being specific because I guess they figured I knew. I was still driving at like 75 mph so I called my sister and asked her if she could tell me what’s happening and she told me the news. Before that, I was excited but I wasn’t exactly sure what to be excited about.
Did you cry?
I was happy and then I got a little weepy, but mostly I just had a huge smile on my face. because I thought it was really cool. That so many people had been embraced [from the production] was really gratifying. [The nomination for] Airline Highway was also really exciting and incredibly unexpected so that was also thrilling.
What are you going to wear to the show?
I’m working that out as we speak. Anna Wintour’s office has not contacted me about offering me a look to wear to the Tony’s, but I will put together something special and custom. I’m not a frugal person particularly but I’m also not somebody who dresses up a lot. I want my look to be special and say something about the experience and me.
Have you heard that Anna’s office is contacting people?
I don’t know if it’s Anna herself, but there is definitely involvement from the people at Vogue.
It’s lovely that Anna is trying to help.
I don’t know anybody who’s not delighted about that.
We loved Fun Home. Why is it connecting to audiences?
It’s hard to know really. I was a huge fan of [writer] Alison Bechdel before the book came out. I read the book the weekend it came out. She has made a particular story that effected people. She’s telling such a deeply specific person, but it punches you in the face. Have you ever been in the car with your parents and you’ve been dying to tell your parents something and not been able to? You feel like you can’t reach them? Which I think is a situation that 90 percent of us have been into. Those heartbreaking moments where you’re trying to communicate with them, but you’re scared to or we’re scared to, but I hope it happens before it’s too late. That moment of storytelling and connecting everybody to the experience. I have accused [composer] Jeanine Tesori of being a witch and that her music does something magic. The music is magic. and so beautiful. It lifts the emotions.
What kind of research did you do for Fun Home?
We kind of jumped off from Alison’s book. She does such rigorous research about her own family photographs and we had access. I try to not look at catalogs, but family photos and Flickr. I’m also basically the age of the older Alison in the story so the kids in the show were kids when I was a kid, and the college students were college students when I was in school. It was a funny project because I know what they were going to wear.
We understand you’re fashion obsessed.
That’s a reasonable description of it.
Tell us more!
In my adult life, I’m inspired by and thrilled by contemporary fashion. I’m also a huge Comme de Garcons fan, and pre-shenanigans Margiela. My heart gets excited by it, which isn’t necessarily reflected in my work in Fun House, but I love these designers that push the limits of things that are considered beautiful to me. I love beautiful clothes and I love looking at them. I find it a constant inspiration and I learned an important lesson when Rei Kawakubo did the bump collection with the gingham dresses with the lumps on them. It was the final time when I looked at them thought yeah that’s fun but that’s crazy. Six months later, I saw one in a photo shoot and I was like that’s amazing looking. It was really a big turn for me to just look at stuff and say yes and you’re going to learn to love it. Say yes to things that look unfamiliar and are challenging and let it in and let it expand your mind to what is possible and what is beautiful. It’s a fun way to watch fashion.
Xanadu was your Broadway debut as a costume designer! Those shorts on Cheyenne Jackson are now iconic.
I was joking, ‘Where my GLAAD Media Award is for Cheyenne Jackson in shorts?’ Who else has done more for the gay community than those shorts?
Funny! What’s next for you?
They’re doing a musical of the movie Amélie, and I’m the set and costumes for that in Berkeley in August and September, which is really exciting. I’m about to go off and do an opera about Walt Whitman and his Civil War years up in Boston. I’m going to do Cymbeline in Shakespeare in the Park this summer.
You’re busy! We hope you win a Tony or two!
Thank you so much. It’s so stupid to say but it’s an honor to be nominated, but I have no expectation of winning. It totally doesn’t matter, but it’s fun to go on the journey.