There is one mastermind behind these historic works of theater couture, and that man is the diminutive, Southern-spoken genius Broadway loves named William Ivey Long. As *the* costume designer of the Broadway set, Long’s name brand is sewn into over 70 shows and counting. His designs—spectacular, fabulous works created after intensive, obsessive research—have been known to become as famous as the actors who wore them and, in some cases, lasted as works of art far longer than the show itself.One of the most illustrative tales of Long’s creative design genius came from the set of The Producers, where he had created meticulously detailed pearl leotards for the chorus of Pearl Babes. During their number, they sit on a piano, and, as it turned out, sitting on pearls on a piano is terribly uncomfortable. Can you fix this? they asked Long.
Long thought about it, and he turned that difficulty over in his mind. He did not want to sacrifice his precious pearls shimmying in the back, and he didn’t want any other effect. So, he gathered up the costumes and took them home for a few days. Then he returned, handed each actor her costume and said the problem is solved.
The Pearl Babes put on their costumes and sat down, and, certainly, the pearls gave way beneath them. Long had replaced the hard plastic pearls with fake grapes, the kind found in most Grannys’ bowls of fake plastic fruit, and painted them an opalescent white. Problem solved.
And the audience never knew the difference.
For more on William Ivey Long:
William Ivey Long Keeps His Clothes On By Alex Witchel
“William Ivey Long, Costume Designer, Rodgers+Hammerstein’s Cinderella”
William Ivey Long at TEDx Lizard Creek: “The Design Process”