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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Damn Yankees - son of Redux

I would be remiss if I did not remark on the wonderful costumes George Mitchell designed for Music Theatre of Wichita's production of Damn Yankees. For anyone not in the know, theatre costumes are "built." If you've ever been in a costume shop, you'd know why. Believe me the buttons and zippers et al are constructed in such a way that you know "they ain't comin' off easily." Costumes, particularly for the principals, are made to measure for that specific actor. [Oftentimes, depending on budget, costumes are hand tailored for the rest of the cast too.] Many hours can go in to building a single costume.

Also a delight to the eye was the choreography by John MacInnis. It's very hard to have a large cast with short rehearsal time learn sometimes complicated choreography in 10 days "ready for stage." But it's amazing how quickly this can come together. Dance numbers often times are not completely jelled by the first performance, but you can see it getting better with each performance. It's almost criminal the runs are so short.

Here are some links to give you the idea. [I've done links to be safe on copywrited material - and I know linking to the MTW website will be "safe."]

Shoeless Joe From Hannibal Mo number

That's Karen Robu, who played Gloria. Her real life husband played Van Buren, the manager. The guys are in the uniforms of the Washington Senators. [A notoriously bad team in the 50s, when this musical is set.]

These next two comic characters have great costumes throughout - NO part is a "small part" and these two played it to the hilt. I particularly love the watermelon pattern of the dress on the left. So help me, I want cushions made out of that material. Fans: Doris (Patty Reeder) and Sister (Betty O.)

There's nothing like a good go to hell plaid with orange/red shirt. And yes, the devil is rather handy with fire.

It is not easy designing costumes for Lola. The character should be playful, and sexy in a way that is non-threatening - she has a lot of silly things to do and say -- but yet she can not be percieved as foolish. Bad costumes (as I have seen in the past for this character) can make the performer seem silly and ineffective -- or if not that, the performer has to work uphill to overcome it. George Mitchell outdid himself designing Lola's costumes. JoAnn M Hunter played Lola, and a finer performance of the part I could not imagine. She was just perfect in every conceivable way. Notice the detail of the feathers on the hat reminiscent of devil's horns. The hot pink to remind you of where she comes from, and also the fripperies of the gathering and flounces that fall from the tight waisted jacket. Lola is Applegate's "associate" - she's sold her soul because she was tired of being "the ugliest woman in Providence, Rhode Island." JoAnn is a choreographer herself, and was the assistant choreographer for CURTAINS.

This next link has Joe Hardy (Chris Peluso), Sister (Betty O.), Meg Boyd (Alma Cuervo), and Doris (Patty Reeder.) Joe is homesick for his wife, and pretends to be a fellow in need of a room to rent. I like this grouping, because it illustrates the attention to period detail - as modified for stage.
Joe has on a shirt with a plaid front facing with zipper down the the top, and chinos - a look that was not uncommon for young men in the 1950s. Sister has on a white shirt and purple skirt. Now the shapes and patterns and colors are what they would have been in the 50s -- but Sister's skirt is made out of a heavy purple quilting -- something she wouldn't have worn on the "street" in "real life." But the material works particularly well on stage giving the full skirt body and pizazz. Great read. Meg's reddish pink is a great example of what a working class to middle class woman would have worn in the 50s. The big buttons and pockets are all in the right places, and the pockets and flaps spot on. Her hair is set "just so." My friend, Christine, remarked after the show how like her own mother Meg reminder her. And I must say, upon reflection, she certainly reminds me of photos of my mother and my aunts taken during the 50s. Doris's floral print was very popular, as were the white yokes Doris and Sister have on.
Sister and Doris are gushing over Joe, whom they have recognized as the "greatest ballplayer ever."

In this photo, we can see Meg's dress a little better, as well as Joe's shirt. And of course Applegate (James Brennan) has many guises, and as it happens, accents.

Now, we come to Lola's seduction scene. The trickiest costume of all. This is essentially a comic strip number. Lola must look playful and vampish, but never make you dislike her. You are to feel Joe's discomfort (he is faithful to his wife, after all, and misses her.) But you as an audience number must NOT feel the least bit uncomfortable. A tough task for a costume designer. And as the costume designer you have to support the show and resist the temptation to go "too far." People have brought their children, mind! The costume has a jacket (missing at this point) - the full dress look, the dress part below the waist gone, the gloves get stripped off one by one and finally the drawers are gone too - leaving her in stockings and "bathing suit." But quite a fancy one. I love the tassles on the undergarments. Great detail. Those extra few bucks spend in the notions department were much appreciated to people who notice things like that.
Also, notice in this last photo, that she does have flesh colored shoulder straps. The audience doesn't pick them up from afar -- but here's where "designing something for the stage" comes in. Those elastic bands are going to keep all of Lola's assets in a "safe place." In other words, no "costume malfunction" a la Janet Jackson. -- And relax, PG Audience, Joe resists. Much to Applegate's disgust - who apes Lola's performance after Joe leaves. Nice touch on the red socks!

The mambo number to end the first act was quite fun. We couldn't decide which male dancer was the better of the two -- well, we eventually gave it to one of the guys on the basis of more precise Fosselike handflicks -- but just by a hair. It was like trying to decide which of the Tarleton twins you thought was more handsome.

The "hell scene" costumes in the middle of act 2 were quite fun. I love Lola's Purple/black ensemble, as well as Applegate's velvet dressing gown with the gold "A" -- which he was able to later effectively whip off cape like for his big "Good Old Days" solo. Notice Lola was always in a complementary palette of red/pink/purple -- for instance, she's not going to suddenly show up in chartreuse, or brown.

One can never have too many "go to hell" jackets, either. Some people find it shocking.

More 1950s costumes from the commissioner's hearing scene. I love the detail of the pointed white cuffs on the ladies short sleeve dresses.

The "Two Lost Souls" number was a joy to watch. It's a classic "beatnik" style -- very much in the period. This is an example where the costumer helps the audience and gives them a laugh. At the start of the number, everyone is paired up boy/girl in complementary costumes/colors -- however, there are two nerd kids who are not paired up -- all lost in the mix of the "kewl couples." You just know by THEIR costumes, they are going to end up together. And of course, they are brought together center stage. Love their striped shirts, plaid pants and yellow sneakers. Perfect. Nerds wouldn't even wear something this nerdy in real life (at least not all of these pieces at once) -- but it works great on stage. Nerds are at the far left of this photo.

Here's Lola's hot red number -- Applegate is disgusted by her admission that she's in love with Joe. Applegate gets even (temporarily) by turning her back into the "ugliest woman in Providence, Rhode Island." Yes, that's
"Lola" -- now with a hunchback, fright wig, big nose, and washed out pink. See what happens when you prevent Applegate from affecting the outcome of the game by giving him 4 sleeping pills? I also like the pedal pushers on the girl to our right of Applegate. Very 50s. It doesn't happen by accident!

All's well in the end though, Joe (Charles Parker) goes back to his Meg, despite a final appeal by Applegate and Lola.

I suppose there's always a "next victim" to be contemplated. So many people wouldn't go to the devil if he wasn't so darned attractive to begin with!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'm trying to reach George Mitchell, his email address I have is old, so I'm online looking for a way to contact him. He is a friend and former classmate. Please forward this request to him.
Thank you,
Kay Webb,

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