Read about NYC's best theatre and dance productions and watch video interviews with innovative artists
Meet the wardrobe wizard at Broadway’s Rock of Ages
“I like to refer to Rock of Ages as the big little show,” says wardrobe supervisor Wendall Goings. As he puts it, the costumes for the ’80s-set jukebox musical—stuffed with hair metal hits like “Sister Christian” and “Wanted Dead or Alive”—are almost an illusion; the clothes might seem skimpy, but they’re made of hundreds of parts.
“There’s over 500 hundred pieces of costuming in the show because the characters are constantly taking things off and adding things,” Goings says.
Because the musical takes place on the Sunset Strip, that 1980s haven for grungy rockers and their proudly trashy fans, those pieces are all in a state of fashionable decay. But at eight shows a week, how do they stay artistically frayed rather than shabby?
Part of it is high-alert maintenance. With so many studs and rhinestones on stage, Goings has a day worker go through the costumes every two weeks and replace anything that’s bent or looking too worn. But he’s also vigilant about pre-empting any issues, with the result that even five years into the run, there are still some original costumes on stage at the Helen Hayes Theatre.
“One of the things that helps the longevity of the costume is constantly replacing the linings,” he says. By putting in a removable and washable lining, Goings and his team protect the clothes from absorbing sweat—an important precaution, given the amount of music video-worthy dancing in the show. “I have a joke about ‘theRock of Ages workout,’” Goings says. “I say [to new actors], ‘You’re going to lose 10 pounds in the first month!’”
Though many cast members are frequently seen in various stages of undress, Goings says that everyone is a professional prepared to don what’s been assigned. “When they actually get into the costume and look at themselves, they sometimes go, ‘Oh no, I’m wearing this?’” he adds. “But if they have any hesitancy or some questions, I definitely address them and try to adapt as best we can.”
And in Rock of Ages as in life, Goings says that “it’s really about finding the right bra. We provide the correct framework to make sure that they are amply endowed. Every time a female performer comes in, I have a custom fitting to make sure we have the right bra for her. And it’s the same for the men, too; they have to have the correct underwear to make sure they’re able to perform.”
Not that Goings is only concerned with costume damage control.Rock of Ages also features a revolving door of celebrities in walk-on roles, and he creates customized outfits for them. “We do a lot of sports players because it’s kind of the ‘straight guys’ musical,” he says. “It’s always a challenge, but I’ve never really had a hard time with any of them. I always prep them at the beginning and say, ‘You do know what this show is about, right?’ And they usually have a great time with it.”
Asked about his favorite guest star, the costumer cites Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, who got to wear a studded and grommeted vest with a Yankees logo in the shape of a baseball on the back. “He embodied that excitement that people get when they come in and see what we do,” Goings says.
However, as much as he enjoys creating those new pieces, Goings is just as invested in day-to-day care. “I have a great passion for costuming and clothing in general, so personally I find the fit of the clothing just as much fun,” he says. “The clothing has to fit the actors well. Otherwise it doesn’t create the right picture on stage. And it’s all about how we can make the performer look their absolute best.”
Mark Peikert is the executive editor at Backstage Magazine
Photos by Paul Kolnick