Poof! With a wave of her magic wand, the fairy godmother turned Cinderella’s rags into a ball gown. It happened in an instant — and on stage — for everyone in the audience to witness.
How could such a dramatic and complete transformation in Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella take place in plain sight? The answer is a well-guarded secret that lies within the seams and stitches plotted by legendary costume designer William Ivey Long.
Long won his sixth Tony Award for his brilliant set of ornate palace garb, period peasant wear and lavish dresses trimmed with ribbons and lace and embroidery. But beyond conceptualizing the more than 330 beautiful costumes for the cast, Long infused innovative elements into some of his creations, especially the costumes worn by Cinderella and her fairy godmother. The technical and practical details allow the two characters to essentially change costumes on stage, adding an unexpected and delightful dimension to the presentation, a truly magical moment.
A large part of the magic of this show is the costumes. "It’s a lot of fun because the people have come to see the magic,” says Kecia Lewis who plays Marie, the fairy godmother, in the musical based on the classic fairy tale. Theater Under The Stars is presenting the show at the Hobby Center through June 7.
"I transform from a beggar woman, Crazy Marie, a crazy lady, into the fairy godmother – and you see me do it but you don’t know how I did it. Being a part of something where I get to magically transform in front of your eyes, even just rehearsing that was very thrilling,” says Lewis.
“That’s probably the scariest part of performing the show, not the flying. I fly in the show and that’s fun but the scariest part of the show is the transformation because the transformation has to be right everyday.”
Backstage costume tour
With all the hype surrounding the costumes, I wanted a closer look. And I wanted to investigate with the biggest fan of musical theater I know — my 7-year-old daughter Sasha.
A few hours before we were scheduled to watch the show, we got a chance to admire the costumes backstage at the Hobby Center, courtesy of TUTS.
“Some of these dresses weigh up to 25 pounds. So imagine trying to move gracefully on stage with that heavy load,” Lewis says.
Our costume tour guide was the fairy godmother herself, Kecia Lewis. With her rich and resonant voice, she shared theater stories in her wise, fairy godmotherly way and Sasha was immediately under her spell.
Lewis showed us the fancy dresses that sparkled and shimmered on the racks — bursts of turquoise, orange, lilac and lime that we would later see swirling in the castle ballroom scene. Sasha was enamored with the gorgeous gowns.
Lewis also showed us the glamorous wardrobes of Cinderella’s stepsisters and stepmother complete with the panniers and hip pads that would be layered underneath. “Some of these dresses weigh up to 25 pounds. So imagine trying to move gracefully on stage with that heavy load,” she says.
Lewis explained the long process to the final fitting. “William Ivey Long spends time with you and gets to know your personality and color preferences. He wants to incorporate what makes you feel good on stage into the costumes,” Lewis says.
With the new insight from a theater insider, Sasha and I took our seats that night, prepared to catch Cinderella and her fairy godmother during their transformations. We reminded ourselves not to blink.
At the stroke of midnight, after an evening of dancing with the prince, Cinderella spins and her ball gown turns back into a peasant dress.
“How did they do that, Momma?” Sasha asked in wondrous disbelief. Then she decided, “I know, I will audition for Cinderella, and even if I’m not Cinderella, I will rehearse with her so I can find out their secret.”
How it happened remains a mystery – even to us. Poof!
Bernadette Verzosa is founder and editor of ParentsPost.