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Making Costume Magic

Designer William Ivey Long on ‘Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella’

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He helped turn Harvey Fierstein into a woman for Hairspray and outfitted the monster in top hat and tails for Young Frankenstein, but five-time Tony winner William Ivey Long insists he had to use every last trick up his sleeve on Cinderella (now playing at New York City’s Broadway Theatre). ”Usually when you do a show that involves magic, you have a magic coordinator, but we didn’t. I said, ‘I would love to have a go at creating the transformations, without any smoke and mirrors,”’ Long says about taking on the challenge of using costumes to pull off ”How’d they do that?” scenes like the makeover Cinderella gets from her fairy godmother. (Hint: Magnets are involved.) That all of the magic happens in plain view of the theatergoers helps make for one enchanted evening. ”It’s very low-tech, but I think the audience enjoys getting a little glimpse of how it’s done, even on nights when the actress has to do a little jiggle to finish it.”

A Colorful Chorus

”I did a production of Dreamgirls in South Korea a few years ago, and when I was there, I discovered fabrics I’d never seen,” Long recalls. ”They make this amazing plastic horsehair that comes in many colors we don’t have [in America], so I made all the petticoats out of that see-through horsehair fabric.” The effect: underpinnings as vibrant as the ladies’ bright ball gowns. ”It’s a very tight color scheme until the ball scene, so I thought, ‘Okay, there should be a surprise.’ When you see the dancers lifted in the air, you see through their gowns.”

Belle of the Ball

When the time came to fit Cinderella for her glass slippers, Long enlisted the help of shoe guru Stuart Weitzman. ”He’s been making ‘glass slippers’ for decades,” says Long. ”We came up with a mixture of rhinestones and sequins that makes the shoe look see-through and sparkly at the same time.” The result? Cinderella’s feet can be seen from every seat in the house. ”It was a collaboration between Stuart, me, and [actress] Laura Osnes’ feet!”

Childhood Inspiration

Though Long remembers watching Julie Andrews in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella when he was just 10 years old, the 1957 television production is not his earliest Cinderella memory. ”I memorized the [animated] Disney film as a child. The first concept of making costumes for me was the mice and the birds making her dress. When [costume designers] get together — usually there’s alcohol involved — we start fessing up to the first moment we wanted to create dresses, and Cinderella’s dress comes up every time.”

From Stage to Screen and the Las Vegas Strip
Siegfried & Roy

Long has created costumes for everyone from Joan Rivers to the Rolling Stones. ”I designed Siegfried & Roy’s show at The Mirage Hotel. They’ve been mentors to me for years, I’m still in touch with them,” Long says of the Vegas legends. ”I have the greatest respect for performers. I think if you choose to be on a support team…you love helping these great talents do what they do.”

The Producers

”We had 28 cast members on the stage, but there were thousands on the film. When we did the [Nazi storm trooper] number, I used mirrors and puppets to make it look like there were more, but in the movie, I actually had real people,” says Long, who created costumes for both the 2001 Broadway production of Mel Brooks’ The Producers and the 2005 film remake. ”In live theater you rehearse, you do alterations, and then there’s opening night. In film there are five opening nights a day, sometimes more!”

Cabaret

”I loved [working on] Cabaret,” says Long, who helped the late Natasha Richardson get into character as Sally Bowles in the 1998 revival. ”When I do shows, I ask the producers and directors if they want me to refer to previous productions or make no reference to them. I tried to make Cabaret look exactly like the period, so [the character] was wearing clothes a woman would have worn in 1929.” The costume designer also worked wardrobe magic on the 1996 revival of Kander and Ebb’s Chicago, now the longest-running American musical on Broadway.