Beetlejuice marks costume designer William Ivey Long’s diamond jubilee: his 75th Broadway show. The 17-time Tony Award nominee (and six-time winner) is known for his artistry in costumes and ingenuity in design.
For Beetlejuice, Long relied on the film’s original creator, Tim Burton, for inspiration. “Usually writers aren’t also visual artists, but because we’re celebrating this great visual artist in Tim Burton, I thought it was important to make it feel like he was sketching those clothes right on the people,” says Long. Though his pipe dream did not come true (“My dream was to make white costumes and have Tim Burton come in and paint them”), Long worked his own magic to emphasize a handmade, low-tech feel.
Even with something as seemingly simple as Beetlejuice’s black-and-white stripes, Long experimented until he found his ideal look. “I made a suit, but I made it with applique fabrics. It was so heavy,” Long recalls. “I made a board of hand-cut stripes out of different blacks, then I photographed that and overlaid one over the other” to create a homemade pattern on lightweight fabric.
“They’re all interestingly painted and then mended,” he says of Beetlejuice’s suits, which Long theorizes Beetlejuice has had to fix himself over the years. “[The stitch] is upside down, like he stitched it himself.”
While it seems Beetlejuice never changes from his classic stripes, Long switches up the overtones to it depending on the demon’s mood. “His spirit would decide to be red during the wedding. On the rooftop, he’s purple because that’s the sunset.”
Lydia ratchets up the handmade aesthetic. “She’s the goth girl, but goth back in the ’80s was unusual,” says Long. He collaborated with actor Sophia Ann Caruso to invent a look that hearkens back to Malcolm McLaren and the Sex Pistols crossed with grunge. “I finally said, ‘Do you think it’s time to revive the safety pin?’” Long says. The safety pins, like the stitching on Beetlejuice, contribute to the Burton DIY quality. Caruso even designed and crafted some of the jewelry she wears as Lydia.
“Every now and then you make those statement costumes,” says Long, “like the family’s in gold and she wants to play and join the family, but it’s yellow. Or she’s in red when she marries Beetlejuice who’s in red. Then in comes Beetlejuice’s mother in the same red. They’re—for a moment in time—a family. I love telling family stories like that.” As the show progresses, Lydia’s dresses become more elaborate, especially that red wedding dress. “We thought that Lydia was the original thrift store shopper, so she bought several red dresses, cut them up, and sewed them together.”
Long’s homage to Burton kicked into overdrive with Delia, originated by Leslie Kritzer. “We had so much fun creating all of her various pop art fabric,” says Long. “All of the swirls in the fabric are based on suggestions in his sketches.” Long drew the pattern right on the muslin Kritzer was wrapped in during her fitting.
The silhouettes were Burton-esque, as well. “The gold dress that unwinds, that’s based on the melting lady in black-and-white—one of his favorite images,” says Long. “We’re channeling Burton’s sense of va-va-voom.”
With hundreds of costume pieces, Long keeps the wardrobe department backstage at the Winter Garden active.
While he doesn’t mimic the beloved film, he gives the audience enough from the Burton oeuvre to satisfy. “You have to remember: The only reason we’re either reviving a show or doing a show based on a movie is that that movie [or original] was incredible. You don’t discard it and say, ‘I won’t make any references,’” says Long. “But they actually don’t want to see the movie. It’s a different artistic medium.” And Long finds enough excitement in that to fuel him for 75 more.