Broadway in Atlanta brings “Beauty and the Beast” to the Fox Theatre from Nov. 27 to Dec. 2.
In Beauty and the Beast, which originated as an 18th-century folktale, a prince is transformed into a beast by an enchantress because he is “spoiled, selfish, unkind … and has no love in his heart.” If the Beast can learn to love and have someone love him in return by his 21st birthday, he will be transformed back into the prince.
Onstage, magical transformations happen long before that moment – not much of a spoiler due to the popularity of the 1991 Disney movie and subsequent Broadway musical. Backstage the human actors must become a teapot, a clock, a carpet, a candlestick, a wardrobe and, of course, a beast.
Creating that process fell largely to costume designer Ann Hould-Ward, who won a 1994 Tony Award for her work on the Broadway production.
“There was a lot of pressure to take this iconic movie and convert it in such a way that would make it just as iconic in the theater as it was in the movie house,” she says. “People have so much invested in how much they love the movie, so I was challenged with how much do I give the audience so that it really relates to the movie, and how much do I change the costumes so that they actually operate on a human body?”
Typically on Broadway, Hould-Ward gets six months to a year to create costumes. The process includes months and months of research, collaboration with the director, choreographer, costume shops and wardrobe supervisor, and thousands of samples of fabric.
She is charged with designing the look of a costume as well as its durability and practicality.
“Something a lot of people don’t think about is the wear and tear put on the costumes just based on the show’s logistics,” she says. “Costumes are worn eight times a week by people who, in addition to regular perspiration, are on an adrenaline rush, which I have learned over the years creates a different type of chemical perspiration that just seems to wear out the fabric faster.”
Hould-Ward doesn’t travel with the show, so caring for the 580 costume pieces and dressing the 30-member company falls to wardrobe supervisor Laci Bradshaw and her assistant, who travel with the show. Eight local dressers are hired in each city. Each of those dressers, whose experience levels vary, is responsible for dressing up to four performers each night. Most changes take place backstage where costumes are organized in 14 gondolas, which Bradshaw describes as “rolling closets” that are about 6 feet wide. Some quick changes take place in the wings.
The scene backstage is incredibly organized, with very little chaos despite what audiences might imagine, Hould-Ward says.
“Things can get a little chaotic on our first night in a venue as the local dressers figure out their role and how to go about it,” says Bradshaw, who makes sure each assistant gets exhaustive directions.
She’s also responsible for getting the costumes cleaned. Each week some go to dry cleaners, who must be prepared and know how to handle a wide variety of fabrics and textures, follow detailed instructions and get everything back to the theater before the next show.
Machine washable costumes are cleaned on an “every-other-night rotating basis” in venues that have washers and dryers. Bradshaw, also tasked with daily maintenance — painting and dyeing fabrics and repairing shoes, says, “I’m never bored.”
This tour is scheduled to end in June 2013 but may go on, she says.
“The show is doing so well. We sell out a lot. It is a classic that people love. It just keeps going.”
Bo Shurling is a freelance writer whose work includes celebrity interviews, restaurant reviews, movie reviews, press releases, film production notes, newsletters, brochures, and TV and radio spots. He also works in the field of public relations and publicity.