All Dolled Up...
The showgirls of the Hot Box Photo Credit: Michael Smith
If you're brave like us at Glory Days HQ, you're not afraid to admit a deep love of musicals. One of the best has to be Guys and Dolls and Creative Director Rose Jackson recently ducked behind the scenes of the Auckland Theatre Company's production, to check out the fabulous vintage inspired costuming.
I'm not sure if you can call yourself a true vintage fan unless you have a towering back catalogue of 1950s musicals stashed away in your house somewhere. Having been a singing/dancing/acting gal in my youth and hiding away from the stage working behind the scenes in hair, makeup and costuming departments when I got all grown up and shy of the limelight, I have always loved musicals and the licence that they give to turn reality up a notch or 10.
Guys and Dolls is definitely on high rotation in my collection. It has everything that a great musical comedy film should have... love stories, great songs, big stars (Brando and Sinatra as the leading lotharios no less!), theatrical complications and great costumes. For those who haven't had the pleasure of seeing Guys and Dolls before, the story goes a little something like this...
Nathan Detroit needs a home for his permanent floating crap game. To raise cash, he bets professional high-roller Sky Masterson that he can't date the cute doll, Salvation Army sargent Sarah Brown. But when Sky and Sarah fall for each other the stakes are raised. Meanwhile Nathan is doing his darndest to stay out of the matrimonial clutches of his long-suffering fiancée of fourteen years, Miss Adelaide. Gambling with dice and love, will luck be a lady for our fabulous foursome?
In terms of costuming, the original play was based on gangsters from the 1920s and 30s getting up to gambling related hijinks in underworld New York, but when it came to outfitting the cast for the 1955 produced film, costumier Irene Sharaff only seemed to apply the plays reference era to the mens costumes.
Being a vintage fashion collector, I'm always thinking about the ways in which particular eras are represented in the visual arts. I am very interested in costuming particularly because, while the designers may be trying to represent the particular era that the play or show is based in, the era that they are designing in can't help but come through in their designs. This confusion is never more clear than the difference between the ladies and the gents looks in the film version of Guys and Dolls.
Stills from the 1955 film production of Guys and Dolls
Note above left, those quintessential gangster staples from the 20s and 30s of pinstripe suits, pocket squares, and sharp hats. The ladies, however, have had a '50s makeover and grace the screen in a selection of capri pants, fitted bodysuits with nipped in waists so indicative of the 1950s (see above right nuzzling up to Brando), red lipstick and postwar suiting. And of course all movies of this era have that amazing hyper-real colour treatment to the film, so everything looks just a little more bright and lively than everyday life.
With this in mind, I was really excited to see how the Auckland Theatre Company was going to bring the characters to life through their choice of costuming in a live stage version. The ATC production is directed by Raymond Hawthorne and stars Shane Cortese, Sophia Hawthorne, David Aston and Roy Snow. To find out more and to get yourself tickets to the Auckland season of Guys and Dolls please visit the ATC website. I got to spend an hour before the season began, poking around behind the scenes at the Q Theatre and met Tracy Grant Lord - the talented costume and set designer to hear all about the creative process that she went through to develop the look for the show.
Tracy is a leading stage designer of theatre, opera and ballet. Based in Auckland, she has worked as a freelance designer with the major performance companies throughout Australasia. You can read more about her amazing career here.
I got to have a quick chat with Tracy in between dress rehearsals, hat deliveries and last minute requests and she took me on a whirlwind tour behind the stage and into the dressing rooms.
We covered all manner of things over coffee in the Q Theatre bar...
...her background and how she started out in costume design
I call myself a production designer and I did an apprenticeship at Mercury Theatre in Auckland in the 1980s. I did 10 years there. We got to do a whole variety of things - operas, musicals and there was a studio theatre upstairs so we got to do new work, New Zealand work, we ran the gamut. It was a very good place to train.
After that I began my freelance career. Because the work was limited in New Zealand, I went over to Australia. and the majority of my career has been based there, including working with the Australian Ballet, Melbourne Theatre Company, Opera Queensland, It's quite a busy life!
The organisation stations behind the scenes
... the production lead up to Guys and Dolls
I started working on Guys and Dolls at the beginning of this year with Raymond - nutting it out and organising the logistics of the show. There are lots of scene changes. It's quite a small theatre, but we have a big stage so we can put the revolver on stage and that's helped us with the transitions. But it's still technically quite complex.
Until the components are finished and ready to be on stage, not everything magically works together and slots into place. The progression of the show has to be sustained an hour or so before the first interval, so we have to make sure the whole journey of the sections is seamless and holds the audience's attention. so unlike the film version of Guys and Dolls, it's all live for us so the complexities are enormous.
Showgirls at the Hot Box Photo Credit: Michael Smith
... whether she took inspiration from the film version of Guys and Dolls
Yes I did. I haven't seen any stage productions of Guys and Dolls. For my reference I did watch the film and also it's such a revered classic that I wanted to keep true to that for everybody. Those actors really made those roles, and there really is only one way to play Sky Masterson. For me visually I need to create a sense of what that character looked like, to kind of give the Brando feel and the Sinatra feel and the Hot Box feel, so everyone can go "This is Guys and Dolls".
The Guys from Guys and Dolls Photo Credit: Michael Smith
... if it was intimidating costuming such an iconic show
I don't think it was intimidating but it was challenging because it's such a big show with so many costume changes. Lots of hats, shoes, suits, and so many big ticket priced items. So it was just trying to make sure we had enough money to do those properly. And putting the costuming money into the right places.
Behind the scenes costume details in the guys dressing room
We were able to afford to have some suits made so they are completely schmick (smart or stylish - Australian slang), but we also relied on some stock. We knew that we were going to have to make some generic looking suits, but the men in the company are fantastic actors and you can just give them a small element of character through the costuming and they completely make it their own. They love the shoes!
Mission doll (left) vs showgirl doll (right) Photo Credit: Michael Smith
.. characterising the two female leads through their costuming
It was quite easy as one was a mission doll with the uniform look, and one was a showgirl doll. I took my lead from the mission uniform and there is a lot of red in the set - red floor, big red Guys and Dolls on the stage so I chose a red for the mission band which is a deeper version that sits quite nicely inside the palette and then I used the idea that Sarah, when she goes to Havana, just has another schmicker version of that suit but in a mauve colour that compliments Sky's suit.
A vintage look for the showgirls, achieved with modern durable construction methods. Photo Credit (right): Michael Smith
... the decision to make costumes from scratch rather than use vintage clothing.
The vintage pieces that I would have been attracted to I probably wouldn't be able to afford and I had to think a little more about creating our "show look". And also I just don't have the time to spend looking for pieces. I'm on these jobs for a limited amount of time so we just try to do the costuming within the means of the show. Certainly if I had more time and resources I would absolutely have loved to do the perfect vintage rendition of Guys and Dolls! It's also about durability, we don't want anything that's delicate or fragile.
...creating both the costumes and set design.
Yes, I get to make a whole world. Sometimes the costumes have more focus and energy than the set and some times it's the other way around, depending upon the nature of the show. Often with contemporary shows, there is not so much theatricality in the clothes it's just reflecting life but the scenic world might become more important. But this show has to be both.
Glory Days was lucky enough to head along to the premiere of the ATC season of Guys and Dolls and we are pleased to report that they have done a fabulous job of bringing just the right amount of showy Broadway influence and escapism that musical comedy excels at, to the production. We particularly loved Andrew Grainger (playing Nicely-Nicely Johnson) and Sophie Hawthorne as Miss Adelaide, but the whole cast worked together beautifully to tell this iconic story.
This Friday the 13th November, Q Theatre is hosting a Girls Night Out session of Guys and Dolls. Included in the ticket price, guests receive a glass of bubbly, ice cream at interval and a goodie bag! Tickets are selling fast so book your tickets today.
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