How William Ivey Long Accidentally Booked His First Costume Design Gig—and Won a Tony Award

Seth Rudetsky   How William Ivey Long Accidentally Booked His First Costume Design Gig—and Won a Tony Award
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, William Ivey Long celebrates his 75th Broadway show, Seth reveals the Tony Award category he wants to add, and more.
William Ivey Long
William Ivey Long Monica Simoes

Hello from (sort of) sunny L.A.! I’m here because I’m performing all week. Last night, Judd Apatow asked me to guest star in his fundraiser for the Downtown Women’s Center, which was fabulous. It was sold-out and raised a ton of money to help homeless (and formerly homeless) women.

Judd opened the show by showing photos from his photo album and they were hilarious. One was his daughter missing some teeth. He told us the backstory was that she was with him at the dentist one day because she needed a tooth pulled. The dentist stepped out of the room and Judd joked with her that it would be funny if, when the dentist came back, she had already pulled the tooth. She then reached into her mouth and pulled out her own tooth! And, Judd emphasized, it wasn’t even loose! What the hell?

Then he had a photo of himself as a young man with a pretty blond woman and another woman at dinner. Turns out, when he was in college, he got onto The Dating Game by lying about his age (he was 18 and said he was 24). The contestant mentioned loving “tanned, blond and blue-eyed” men and when Judd introduced himself as Bachelor Number One, he said he was “tanned, blond and blue-eyed.” Spoiler alert: He is decidedly not.

Seth 4.29.19

Well, she wound up picking him and he recreated her devastated face when she stepped around the partition. Anyhoo, his prize was to vacation with her in (where else?) Acapulco! It was slated for early December, but he was still in college and that was the time of finals. And yet, he basically had no more money for college so he knew it would probably be his last semester. So, he expedited the process of quitting college at the end of the semester and quit right then to fly to Acapulco! The photo was at dinner featuring him, the contestant, and the chaperone (who he said was much nicer to him than his “date”). I actually found the episode! Watch it here.

Tonight I’m doing Rhapsody In Seth at Largo, and then on Friday I’m doing my first show with Sarah Silverman at The Wallis. I wanna sing showtunes with her, so we had a fun rehearsal on Friday singing through our childhoods (see photo). Come see us Friday or in San Francisco on May 19.

Seth 4.29.19

This week I had multiple Tony Award winner William Ivey Long on Seth Speaks by SiriusXM talk show. Right after the interview, he told me he was having a little party to celebrate his 75th Broadway show! (Number 74 was Tootsie and number 75 was Beetlejuice…both opened last week!) I asked him how it all began and he remembered that when he was a child, he would make outfits for his dog. Even though he started out in canine fashion, he didn’t pursue it. He got degrees in architecture and art history. He was prepared to be a set designer.

When he got out of Yale, he moved to NYC and was designing parties for rich people, meaning they would want a certain theme and he would design what the room would look like. Soon, he began to design costumes and his first Broadway musical was The 1940s Radio Hour, which he first designed at Yale, where the show began. It didn’t run very long, but he was then offered a job to be an assistant to Lawrence Miller, the costume designer for Nine. He had never been an assistant before and didn’t quite know what it entailed so he turned it down.

A few months later, he got a call from the people at Nine telling him where to show up to do fittings. Huh? He didn’t know why anyone was calling him since he turned the job down. The person on the other end worked for the production and told William that his name was on the list of the creative team. William asked what he was listed as. The person told him he was listed as costume designer. What? Turns out, Lawrence Miller was supposed to do costumes and set design, but decided he would just do set. Then he and director Tommy Tune gave the job to William, but forgot to tell him.

William Ivey Long
William Ivey Long Monica Simoes

It’s a positive version of what happened to my friend Kristine Zbornik, one of the most talented people I know. She was auditioning for an Off-Broadway show and sang up a storm. They then told her the salary, and she realized that she’d have to leave a high-paying job for the gig and the money they were offering wouldn’t cover her living expenses. She told them, sadly, that even though she auditioned, she realized she wouldn’t be able to take the job if offered. Two days later they called her. Why? They just wanted her to know she wasn’t being offered the job. She told them she couldn’t take the job! They were basically saying, “Even if you could, we just want you to know, we would not have offered it to you.” She really is fantastic. Watch this:

The year of Nine was also the year of the heightened Michael Bennett/Tommy Tune competition. Tommy Tune was Michael Bennett’s protégé and by the late ’70s, Tommy became a very successful Broadway director-choreographer with Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Suddenly, Dreamgirls was Michael Bennett’s big show for the early ’80s and suddenly Nine was also slated to open the same season. That meant their shows would be up against each other for Tony Awards. Basically, the “student” was at the level of the “teacher.”

William was up for a Tony Award against the legendary Theoni V. Aldredge, the Dreamgirls designer. It was William’s first high profile show…and he won! Like a lot of people who suddenly gain acclaim, he actually thought there was a mistake when he won. Well, to make it seem like perhaps there was a mistake, this happened: Since the design awards weren’t telecast, Hal Linden read off a list of people who had won. When he got to Best Costume Design he accidentally read Theoni’s name! William was sure that was proof that there had been a mistake, but it was Hal’s mistake and it was first of William’s many Tony Awards. I just found this video from when I was in The Ritz on Broadway. William did the costumes and here you can see the amazing white gloves attached to my butt.

I had NY-1 theatre journalist and anchor Roma Torre on Seth Speaks as well. We schmoozed and talked about theatre for a bit. My favorite part was that she agreed with me there should be a separate Tony Award category for actors in revivals. I believe it takes a different skill set to take a role that is not proven and make it Tony Award-worthy. The rehearsal process on an original role is spent making huge changes and the original role is created between the actor and creative team. In revivals, the role is already considered brilliant and the skill set is to make it one’s own/put an individual, brilliant spin on it. But it’s not the same as literally creating the role from scratch!

Anyhoo…I also brought Roma on in order to get people to the doctor! Here’s the story:
One day at NY-1, a producer walked by looking annoyed. When Roma asked what was up, he told her he was not looking forward to basically fasting all day to prepare for his colonoscopy. It reminded her that she was now six years past 50, which is the age people are supposed to get a colonoscopy. She scheduled one and, even though the prep is not fun, she was not nervous at all. She has no family history, doesn’t smoke, and is a vegetarian. The colonoscopy itself was super easy, but when she woke up, her doctor told her she would have to get surgery! Turns out, she had colon cancer. The horrible part (but also hopeful part for people who get an early colonoscopy) is that if she had come in a few years before, it would have been super easy to get rid of. It is a very slow growing cancer. But she had waited so long that it had grown and it was literally weeks away from entering other organs and her lymph glands! End of story is: She had surgery, no chemo, and she’s now almost five years cancer-free. But the point of the story is: Get a colonoscopy! If you can, get it when you’re young! You can usually wait 5–10 years before your next one. And no matter what, get it when you’re 50! It doesn’t hurt at all!

And speaking of this subject, here’s one of the hilarious videos Varla Jean Merman did when she was being sponsored (for real!) by Fleet Enemas.

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