When the musical version of the beloved 1967 Rex Harrison/Anthony Newley version of Dr. Dolittle was in pre-production for a new national tour that began in Pittsburgh in August, costumer Anne Hould-Ward drew inspiration from the horse's mouth, so to speak; she found original copies of the Hugh Lofting books that were simply illustrated by the author himself.
When the show played in London's West End in the 1990s, the animals were created by the Jim Henson Company and were animatronic. That's not the route this Dolittle was taking, according to Hould-Ward. “Dr. Dolittle says that he relates to animals better than he does to people so we decided to bring out the soul of the animals and basically find the humanistic quality hidden within,” she says. With puppet master Michael Curry creating the animals, Hould-Ward went to work on the costumes for the actor “portraying” the furry — or feathered — friends of the doctor. It was key that the animals be the size of animals rather than actors (ala The Lion King) to emphasize the relationship Dr. Dolittle has with the creatures.
“I had this nightmare of Big Bird running around on stage,” Hould-Ward says of creating Polynesia, the parrot who also happens to be Dr. Dolittle's housekeeper. “So I went with the idea of what a housekeeper from the 1800s would look like and put her in a pigeon-breasted coat and a hat that was inspired by Victorian ladieswear of the day and also recalls a bird's cockscomb.” Likewise, the actor portraying Gub-Gub the pig was dressed like a gardener as that was his duty in the Dolittle household. So Hould-Ward fashioned the actor's wig to curl up like pig ears and put the actor into coveralls with a gardening rope in the back pocket that mimics a pig's curly tail.
Hould-Ward had to figure out a palette that would allow the audience to see the animal first and then the actor — or the animal's soul — second. To that end she used bright colors for the puppets but also added an equally colorful palette for the actors so they would be emphasized without stealing focus from their animal counterparts. “This allowed us to pull the puppets forward while the actors go slightly into the background,” she says. “This is probably the most involved palette I've ever done in order to keep the show operating smoothly from beginning to end.”
Audiences around the country will finally be able to get a glimpse of Dr. Dolittle and his amazing menagerie as the tour continues into the summer of 2006.