Wonderful Life Costumes: Page to Stage, part three!
Recall that the play's dramatic conceit is that it presents a "radio play" version of the classic film's story, in which the audience in the theatre functions as the "live studio audience" complete with interaction like Applause-sign responses and so forth. The broadcast is ostensibly happening on Christmas Eve, 1946. Five actors voice all of the roles and the play runs straight through with actual commercial breaks, just like a radio play would have. So, all the characters only have the one costume and very few props and pieces to work with.
We've looked at the page-to-stage process for our two made-to-order costumes (the two women in the cast), so in this final installment, let's see how those sharp 1940s suits came about! As with the ladies, research plays a big part of the process...
1946 catalogue image of suit fashions--note the broad-shouldered, slim-hipped cut of the jackets
The above rendering is another one like the winter coat for Sally Applewhite, where I knew we were going to be pulling the clothes from stock so the rendering was more of a guideline than a blueprint. The image was directly cropped out of a period ad and colorized in Photoshop using the show's color palette for the men's outerwear. Since all the men have arrived at the broadcast studio from the cold NYC evening, they have coats, gloves, and fedoras, which they then use in the show as they "become" different characters.
Design rendering for "Jake Laurence as George Bailey"
Design rendering for "Freddie Fillmore as Mr. Potter et al"
These two costume designs depict two of our characters, movie star Jake Laurence who reads the role of "George Bailey" in the radio play-within-a-play, and the show's host Freddie Fillmore. Because of the specific cuts of 1940s men's suits, we looked in our own company stockrooms, but also contacted the renowned menswear rental house, Rick's Fashions Americain.
Rick's is based out of Springfield, OH, and has been in business since 1982. They work with costumers in theatre, film, and television, and have provided period men's suits for such diverse productions as Dick Tracy to Boardwalk Empire. My assistant, PRC shop supervisor Adam Dill, contacted them with our actors' measurements and provided them the design renderings you see above, and they sent us several options from their collection.
Left: Ray Dooley as "Freddie Fillmore/Henry F. Potter"
Right: Todd Lawson as "Jake Laurence/George Bailey"
At right, you see that George Bailey's suit looks just like the rendering, in a fantastic brown wool pinstripe suit from Rick's. (The pinstripe itself is red and black! Perfect.) At left though, you will note that the look of Freddie Fillmore has changed quite a bit from the original rendering. Rick's sent us some great options for him, but for various reasons of fit (mostly lengths) we couldn't use any of them.
The suit you see in this photo is a 1940s suit I purchased off of eBay for $50 (no, really). It was clearly well-cared-for and beloved by its original owner ("Eldon Ufford" was written on the trouser waistband and in the breast pocket), who was also apparently quite the avid cigar aficionado, judging by the smell of it when it arrived! Thank god for dry cleaning.
Because the grey of this suit is a lighter value than the deep charcoal of the rendering, the blue/yellow shirt/tie combo looked wrong in the context of the stage picture. Throughout the course of our tech/preview nights, I must've given Mr. Dooley a new shirt, tie, and pocket square to try every day, until we finally settled on these.
Research image of Jazzbo's favorite musician, Dizzy Gillespie
We bought Jazzbo's blue suit off Etsy from a Brooklyn vintage menswear dealer named Carnival of the Maniac.
Brandon Garegnani as "Harry 'Jazzbo' Heywood/Harry Bailey"
And those are our men of the cast, all dressed up for their big broadcast of It's a Wonderful Life. If you're in the area, come check it out! But, be sure to get your tickets in advance, some shows are already sold out.
Did you miss the prior posts in this series? Here they are:
Pinterest as a tool for costume design
Part One: Sally Applewhite
Part Two: Lana Sherwood