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"Project Runway" star blends fashion with costumes in "Porgy and Bess"

Staff Writer

It’s an unlikely mash-up, but when “Porgy and Bess” comes to West Palm Beach for eight shows Jan. 7-12, it will be the Gershwins meets “Project Runway.”

That’s because the Tony Award-nominated costumer for the show is Esosa, better known by his un-branded name, Emilio Sosa. The Dominican-born, Bronx-raised fashion designer appeared on the seventh season of “Project Runway” in 2010 and on the second season of “Project Runway: All Stars” in 2012-13.

“As opposed to fashion, the pleasure I get from designing theater is that it allows me to design between specific boundaries,” Sosa says in a telephone interview from his Manhattan home. “How do I make it exciting and interesting for an audience in 2013 slash 2014 when the show itself is set in 1935 or 1936? What I have found is that people don’t change that much. We’re all human, and we all have the same wants and needs, the same relationships with loved ones and romantic relationships.”

Sosa has costumed somewhere near 75 musicals, plays, movies and commercials. His client list includes everyone from Wynton Marsalis and CeCe Peniston to S. Epatha Merkerson and Salt ‘n’ Pepa. He costumed “Motown: The Musical” for Berry Gordy and “Red Hook Summer” for Spike Lee.

The artist he is most identified with is Broadway superstar Audra McDonald, having done her wedding gown in 2012 and her Tony gown for when she won for “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” the same year. (McDonald does not appear in the touring production of “Porgy and Bess,” though she will perform Sunday night at the Kravis.) He says the collaboration on her costumes — the same ones that appear in the road tour — was about 50-50.

“She was very involved in what it was,” Sosa recalls. “One thing she said to me that I will remember forever is she is willing to try anything as long as it makes sense for the character. That’s what I took with me. I knew she was committed to the character [and] not so much the personal.”

Sosa thinks his fashion background helped with wardrobing the show.

“I have a great balance between fashion and theater. As a designer, I want my theater costumes to look like clothing onstage. I want my characters to look real. With others who don’t have that fashion background, their costumes can look too costumey. Normal people do not dress color-coordinated like they make you think people do in the theater. You have to know the time period costume-wise, but you should also be able to design within it. The audience doesn’t understand whether something is historically correct, but they do understand if it doesn’t look right.”

“The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” will run Jan. 7-12 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., in West Palm Beach. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets start at $25. Call 800-572-8471 or go to

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