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Welcome to Geek Out/Freak Out, where theatre fans get enthusiastic about things
Today's topic: The Broadway costumes that wow us and the ones we want to take home!
Clothes may make the man but on Broadway, costumes make the audience envious. Catherine Zuber's Swarovski crystal-encrusted creations for Moulin Rouge!, David C. Woolard's kinky wonderland of black leather and lace for Rocky Horror and Willa Kim's jaw-dropping, floor-length white coat with a high fur collar for Judith Jamison in Sophisticated Ladies are just a handful of the looks I wish I had in my closet! Today, two of TDF's resident costume connoisseurs—Christina Trivigno, TDF's Director of Digital Strategy and an avid cosplayer, and Joey Haws, the TDF Costume Collection's Rental Manager and a costume designer—take a deep design dive into their favorite stage ensembles, incredible quick changes and the getups they wished they owned.
Christina Trivigno: When was the first time you really paid attention to the costumes at a Broadway show?
Joey Haws: It was definitely The Drowsy Chaperone. I had seen a ton of shows by that point, but there was something about the stylish world of Gregg Barnes (who received our inaugural TDF/Irene Sharaff Young Master Award back in 1994) that really stuck with me. I think a lot of it had to do with the juxtaposition of the Man in Chair's bland apartment versus the vivacious world he creates in his head. Color palettes are essential storytelling! You can't go wrong with gorgeous 1920s gowns dripping in rhinestones.
Christina: For me, it was probably David C. Woolard's costumes for the 2000 revival of Rocky Horror. I was impressed by how different they looked compared to the costumes in the more traditional shows I'd gone to with my mom, like Maria Björnson's creations for The Phantom of the Opera and Ann Curtis' for Jekyll & Hyde. Both of those productions had beautiful costumes, but the Rocky Horror designs were more modern and movie inspired, which I noticed. Plus, people in the audience got dressed up! We're seeing that again with Beetlejuice, which even hosts costume contests for fans. I want to note that the show's costumes are by William Ivey Long, who's created so many looks I love but has been accused of problematic behavior, prompting one of my many should-you-separate-the-art-from-the-artist conundrums. I admit, I still dress up as Beetlejuice characters when I go to the show. Joey, do you ever do Broadway cosplay?
Joey: As a costume designer, people assume I have the best Halloween getups and like to get all decked out, but that's the last thing I want to be doing! I applaud those who do, but I have never been someone to make things just for myself. Up until the pandemic, my answer to your question would have been a big no. But as a creative coping mechanism during quarantine, my friends and I had weekly themed costume parties over Zoom. I was crafting looks from the waist up and it was fun trying to be creative with whatever I could find in my apartment.
Christina: I don't need an excuse to cosplay. I especially love to dress up for BroadwayCon. One year I went as "one of the nicest kids in town" from Hairspray (William Ivey Long again, sigh). I had a recreation of their school T-shirt, and I paired it with an orange skirt, sneakers and white socks for their gym scene look. I also had the pleasure of wearing the Tracy Turnblad wig one year at Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS' Broadway Flea Market. I didn't get to keep it, but there are photos! Are there costume pieces you've seen up close that thrilled you? I so enjoyed my tour of the Special Stock room at the TDF Costume Collection.
Joey: Wandering around Special Stock at the Collection is always great fun, and some of the things we have in there still excite me to this day! Two incredible groups of things that jump out at me: every Bob Mackie evening gown (our 2007 TDF/Irene Sharaff Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, who has generously donated so many pieces to us over the years), and Gregg Barnes' wonderfully colorful Renaissance world of Something Rotten!. Bob Mackie is the king of beading and rhinestones—it's incredible to see the different kinds of embellishments that can be used on one gown. Sometimes he'll take a patterned fabric and have its beading follow the pattern. It's just perfection. As for the Something Rotten! clothes, if you sit down and look at the ensemble women's clothing from the beginning of the show, it is an impressive mixture of patterns, textures and fabric choices. Some of the skirts are four layers of different sheer fabrics just to create the perfect color. It's really mind-blowing to examine those kinds of details which you can't really see from the audience.
Christina: I have to say, I nerded out a little bit over the Rent costumes we have in the Collection! Angela Wendt's looks are just so iconic—to see that bit of theatre history up close was magical. I know when you host Costume Collection tours, those are the ones a lot of visitors get excited about, too. For a lot of musical lovers, Rent was their gateway show. What I wouldn't give to take one of those costumes home! Which brings me to another topic: Whose closet do you want to own? Like, which character's costumes would you love to wear in real life?
Joey: I would love to wander around Norma Desmond's closet from Sunset Boulevard. The clothes designed by Anthony Powell (our 2004 TDF/Irene Sharaff Lifetime Achievement Award recipient) are just so breathtaking. The dressing gowns, the suits, the furs, the hats… they are all incredible! As far as a wardrobe I'd want to wear, I'd probably have to go with the incredible designs for The Scarlet Pimpernel by Jane Greenwood (our 1998 TDF/Irene Sharaff Lifetime Achievement Award recipient). The 18th-century menswear in that show is perfectly sumptuous. The rich fabrics and the color combinations are truly top-notch. I wouldn't mind stepping out in those jackets and breeches!
Christina: This one's a little hard for me because I'm a wheelchair user and not all costumes that look great standing on a stage with long trains and billowing sleeves would be comfortable or practical for me. So, what I want and what makes sense are probably not the same. I can definitely think of some real-life fashionistas like Evita and Princess Diana who have been portrayed on stage beautifully with practical suits and the occasional gown that could be fun to wear. But I'm a goth girl at heart and I feel like I'd want the wardrobe of Mrs. Lovett from Sweeney Todd. Is there a designer you think is particularly adept at designing for nontraditional body types?
Joey: Oh wow, that's a great question! I don't feel like I have a solid answer for this one. Unfortunately, I feel we haven't seen enough representation of nontraditional body types on Broadway yet. No one has made me stand back and go, "Wow, that designer can dress any body type!" I wish we were there, and I hope it happens soon. Is there anyone that you've noticed who seems to stand out?
Christina: I'm not sure I have a great answer either! I think Ali Stroker, who uses a wheelchair, was better dressed in Spring Awakening by Dane Laffrey than in Oklahoma! by Terese Wadden, but that may be more about the time periods represented. I thought the frilly dress she wore in Oklahoma! just looked like an overwhelming pile of fabric on her lap, obscuring her torso—they wanted her in the same style dress as the other women in the show. But if I wore that, that yellow dress would get dirty. These wheels aren't spotless! For the current Broadway production of Macbeth, Suttirat Larlarb (recipient of the 2016 TDF/Irene Sharaff Young Master Award) has dressed Michael Patrick Thornton, who also uses a wheelchair, more appropriately. For SIX, I think Gabriella Slade has done a great job creating costumes that seem to work on a variety of body sizes across different casts I've seen. I also have to shout out Hairspray again, where weight was an explicit plot point, and everyone got their "Big, Blonde and Beautiful" moment. I think we should close out this discussion by talking about our favorite quick changes.
Joey: Oh, quick changes! I've got so many favorites but here are a few. In the original production of Dreamgirls, designed by Theoni V. Aldredge (our 2002 TDF/Irene Sharaff Lifetime Achievement Award recipient), during Effie's big Act II number "I Am Changing," the audience initially sees her in street clothes as a spotlight slowly zooms in on her face. When the spotlight pulls back out, she is magically standing on stage in a full-length evening gown and the crowd goes wild. Sheer theatrical heaven! My other favorite quick changes would have to be the designs for the entire D'Ysquith Family in A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder by Linda Cho—she won the Tony for them in 2014, the same year we gave her the TDF/Irene Sharaff Young Master Award. The way she brilliantly designed those changes to happen so seamlessly is very impressive to me!
Christina: I think back to the Beast's transformation in Beauty and the Beast, with costumes by Ann Hould-Ward. That was some amazing onstage magic. Christopher Oram also delighted audiences with that Elsa quick change in Frozen, which seemed to be a tear-away style. Gregg Barnes had Elle Woods do a quick change on stage obscured just by her sorority sisters, but crowds loved it. I also love the twirl-into-something-else effect used in so many shows from Cinderella (Long again) to Into the Woods (Hould-Ward again!).
I'm jealous you get to go into the Costume Collection tomorrow (and every day!). I'll have to visit again soon. Until then, I'll have to content myself with perusing your Instagram.
Which Broadway costumes do you wish you owned? Tell us in the comments!
Christina Trivigno is TDF's Director of Digital Strategy. Joey Haws is the TDF Costume Collection's Rental Manager and a costume designer. Follow the TDF Costume Collection on Instagram at @tdfcostumecollection.