It never seems to fail: Each night, when Cinderella makes her magical transformation from drab to fab in full view of the audience in Rodgers + Hammertein's Cinderella, there are gasps and shrieks and applause. The response delights William Ivey Long, who not only designed the show's stunning costumes, but also is responsible for creating that wondrous moment.
"From the get-go, I asked if I could create the magic, the transformations, through costumes," says Long, who won his sixth Tony Award for Cinderella, which is in the midst of a national tour. "I had never done that in a Broadway show before, and it was important to me. I had worked with Siegfried and Roy in Las Vegas, and one of the things they liked to say is, 'Magic is all around you.' So with my team of people, we figured out the transformations. There was no magic consultant, no smoke and mirrors. And hearing the audience reaction is exciting."
The transformations, in addition to engendering a sense of wonder, are conspicuous examples of how integral the costumes are to the narrative. But in less obvious ways, each of the 175 garments seen in the touring production enrich and add texture to the storytelling.
Long drew inspiration from nature, from the paintings of Pieter Bruegel, from the saturated hues of Maxfield Parrish, from Italian costume designer Piero Tosi, from the 16th century and the 19th century. "The silhouette of the stepmother and stepsisters is vaguely based on Catherine de' Medici, because they aspire to the court," says Long. The peasant costumes hearken back to the same period, from paintings by Bruegel, whose art spills over into Josh Rhodes' choreography. "Josh studied paintings like 'The Wedding Dance,' in which there's a lot of jumping and stomping. And he made those attitudes that Bruegel painted come alive in the choreography."
All the ball gowns are based on moths and butterflies, but Long also likens the women wearing them to flowers. "When the men lift them, the effect is like flowers opening, and the men are the stems and leaves," he says. "That's why the men are in light green; they support the flowers."
Cinderella's ball gown is a work of art, an homage to a gown designed by Piero Tosi for Claudia Cardinale in the movie "The Leopard." The 1860, bell-shaped silhouette is similar to the dresses worn by the other women at the ball, but grander, with 14 layers of petticoats and six different net fabrics, some flecked with silver, some with gold, some opalescent. She's in white, while the other women are in vivid colors, and her slippers are by Stuart Weitzman.
"Cinderella's clothes are designed by the Fairy Godmother, and I wanted her handiwork to look different from the other costumes," says Long. "I have lots of swirly under drapes and underwrappings on Cinderella; she looks like cotton candy, like she's spinning around even when she's standing still. The impression is that after twirling to make the change, the energy stayed with her and she's still moving. Her gown also has Swaroski rhinestones, and only the Fairy Godmother and the clothes she designed, including the court coats for the raccoon and the fox, have sparkle. You see shimmer on the other gowns, but no sparkle. I was very strict about that. It's a subtle thing, but I think the audience can feel the difference."
For Long, working on the show was, well, magical. "Everybody clicked and everybody got into it," he says. "I haven't had such a rewarding design experience in ages."