Costume designer William Ivey Long, who had an Off Broadway triumph earlier this season with his riotously detailed Victorian designs for the gothic horror spoof The Mystery of Irma Vep, continues his tour through the 19th century with two Broadway musicals: the new revival of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun and Frank Wildhorn's The Civil War. These assignments provide a fascinating case study of a designer responding to two distinct production concepts.
Annie Get Your Gun has been retooled to fit the considerable talents of star Bernadette Peters, making it unlike any previous version. Librettist Peter Stone and director/co-choreographer Graciela Daniele have reconceived the musical as a show-within-a-show. In this production, we are seeing the story of Annie Oakley as presented by the members of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. The original opening number, "Colonel Buffalo Bill," has been dropped for "There's No Business Like Show Business," which is sung while the members of the company erect the tent where the show will take place (the scenery is by Tony Walton).
According to Long, who researched the life of Annie Oakley, "Buffalo Bill's troupe traveled around for 30 years, presenting theme seasons. One year, it would be the Rough Riders of the World; another time it would just be the Wild West. They did these shows with the equivalent of crepe paper and spit, but it was all done with a great deal of panache. Graciela has taken it to a logical extreme and said that Buffalo Bill is presenting the entire evening." In this spirit, Long gave each performer a unit costume, which could be adapted for each scene, and which is designed to look as if it came out of a 19th-century theatrical touring trunk.
Even though the costumes are meant to have a certain homemade look, Long adds that many of them are made of hand-tooled leather, which has been studded and pinked and personalized with various details. Also, says Long, "Buffalo Bill's troupe was made up of so many different nationalities. We have several Native Americans in our cast, as well as an Asian lady, and several African-Americans. So I tried to make a unit costume for each person, relating to their ethnic spirit." He even mixes and matches ethnicities; showing off his sketches, he says, laughing, "Look, we have African-American Cossacks. [Actor] Carlos Lopez is the King of Italy. The Can-Can girls have French Can-Can dresses underneath their western bodices."
Long, who says the styles are drawn from the end of the 19th century, used a palette of earth tones, running from blue to brown, all inspired by pieces of a quilt he found in a trunk belonging to his great-aunt. Many of the fabrics used in the production came from Hopkins Mercers and Haberdashers, a London-based firm that the designer first used on productions of A Christmas Carol and 1776. Most of the Hopkins product line would look thoroughly at home in the 19th century and are made of appropriate fabrics such as cotton, muslin, silk jacquard, silk/wool jacquard, and silk/cotton moire. "They're woven on looms from the 19th century," he says. "Dickens could have gotten some of these fabrics."
Annie is a star vehicle, but Long has managed to keep Peters' outfits within the spirit of this concept, even though, unlike the other performers, she has a number of costumes. When Annie and Frank sing the duet "Falling in Love is Wonderful," she is dressed in a purple dress with a cape jacket that blends with his chocolate brown outfit; the muted palette, the designer says, signals that Frank and Annie are mature adults, as opposed to the show's pair of ingenues. When Annie and Frank stage their climactic shooting match, Peters wears a leather jacket that Long had previously used on Karen Ziemba on a tour of Crazy for You, a pair of leather chaps from a cowboy store, and a cowboy hat made by Woody Shelp (Long notes that he uses a variety of cowboy hat styles in the production; for Peters, he used a style favored by silent film actor Tom Mix, which is dimpled in front, with a large brim).
The designer does violate his own concept in the ball scene, where Annie is introduced to New York society. Here the ladies of the ensemble are dressed in off-white silks, which are inspired, Long says, by Karinska's designs for the New York City Ballet production of Vienna Waltzes. In this scene, lighting designer Beverly Emmons treats the dresses with deeply saturated color; "they're woven jacquard, so they catch the light," says the designer.
Annie Get Your Gun is a traditional book musical. The Civil War is an altogether different animal, a song cycle with no plot and virtually no character development (Each of the show's "characters" has two or three songs, focusing on a different aspect of the war). The production began at Houston's Alley Theatre with a different director and a somewhat different design team; there, it was strictly a staged concert, with the performers in evening wear. Director Jerry Zaks then took over the project, bringing in Long and lighting designer Paul Gallo (scenic designer Douglas Schmidt, projection designer Wendall K. Harrington, and sound designer Karl Richardson have remained from the original version).
In contrast to his historically accurate but whimsically theatrical designs for Annie Get Your Gun, Long took a much more stark approach with The Civil War. The designer, who is from the South and whose family is steeped in Civil War history, describes the project as a "very personal journey." He continues, "I was very determined that this not be Broadway. I said to Jerry, 'We need to make the Matthew Brady photographs come alive.'" In fact, the designer created a "concept board" for the show, photographing some actors in military uniforms and other period wear, then mounting the photos in mock period frames and distressing the images with magic marker and acetone, thus recreating the famous style of Brady's Civil War images.
Long establishes a very limited palette of earth tones in the opening number, "A House Divided." The following number, "Freedom's Child," is sung by Frederick Douglass and a number of abolitionists; the black actors' costumes break away to reveal slave costumes underneath, a neat transition that takes approximately five seconds of stage time. "There's absolutely no color in The Civil War," says Long. One small exception is the "River Jordan" sequence, which shows a group of slaves putting on disguises and escaping to the North: "I was scared of costuming that number, because it's joyous, you can't put dour colors on them. Every one of those fabrics is something I had in a box upstairs. I was determined that it would be stuff that I had. I dyed them in berry colors--indigo, purple, ochre, and mud red. We turned them back to front, we dipped them, we overdyed them in those colors, because that was as joyous as I wanted to get." Because this number was added in New Haven, they were constructed in the basement of the Shubert Theatre there, which perhaps helped contribute to their rough, homemade quality. (One persistent problem involves distressing of the soldiers' white shirts; dirt, of course, washes out of the 100% cotton material, as, so far, does ink and magic marker. Long continues to search for the right medium).
The many military uniforms in the show are made of a specially woven heavy wool and were supplied by a number of houses that specialize in building uniforms for Civil War re-enactments and other civic events. These include Jos. Thompson, Charles Townsend, The Quartermaster Shop, and Legendary Arms. One of the most striking costumes is worn by actress Beth Leavel, as a mother who loses all her sons in the war. She is dressed in a severe wool mourning crepe dress worn over a bone corset taken from an authentic pattern. The dress features a cameo brooch carved in black, with a frame of black gunmetal. Her severe hairstyle is copied from the character of Ellen O'Hara (Scarlett's mother) in the film Gone With the Wind.
When asked what shops built the costumes for The Civil War, Long laughs, saying, "Everyone did--all my friends." The list includes Werner Kulowitz of EuroCo, who did some of the ladies' dresses, including Mrs. Bixby's outfit; Jennifer Love, who built the slave dresses and blouses; and Barbara Matera, who built the breakaway abolitionist outfits. Other contributors include John Schneeman, Studio Rouge, Angels & Bermans, and Western Costumes Co. Wigs for the production were done by Paul Huntley, with millinery by Woody Shelp and Arnold S. Levine. Wallace G. Lane, Jr. was associate costume designer, with Jennifer Arnold and Patrick M. Chevillot serving as assistant costume designers. Kyle O'Connor was assistant to Long. The costumes for Annie Get Your Gun were built by Barbara Matera, with wigs (hair design by David Brian Brown) created by Ray Marston Wig Studio of London. Angela Kahler and Kristain Kraai were the assistant costume designers, with Karl Ruckdeschel, and Brian Russman serving as assistants to Long.