And just as designers didn’t simply rehash looks verbatim from that decade, the show’s costume designer, Angela Wendt, who worked on the original Off-Broadway production in 1995 and its 12-year run on Broadway beginning in 1996, was set on making changes to her original creations.
“I was really interested in giving it a new look, looking at it fresh from a distance,” she explains. “It was a little difficult because it was very successful and a lot of the looks were iconic, if I dare use that word. And then I felt you have to disregard that. It’s good I designed it the first time around because it gives me to the right to also ignore it.”
The most notable departures were a product of the New World Stages’ small 499-seat space that allowed Wendt to rethink how the audience perceived her designs.
“It felt it would be good to go a little more gritty and closer up on the detail. When I did it the first time, I consciously stayed away from costuming it too much. We did it more as if you have people go on stage for a concert,” she explains, adding, “I’m always influenced by contemporary fashion. I don’t feel like you have to be slavishly bound to an exact period—you can approach it with new pieces and make it look like they are from the [requisite] time period.”
Here, Wendt gives us a peek at her inspiration boards and photos from a dress rehearsal, narrating her thinking behind outfitting some of the show’s iconic characters:
Angel's Santa outfit and inspiration board
“These were all the silhouettes and textures I looked at that I found interesting and then we kept simplifying and simplifying until instead of a thousand bows I had one huge bow. We had silver jeans, but then we dyed into them to make them a darker silver, we sprayed into them and then we applied in places clear sequins that you can iron on with little images like a candy cane and a Santa Claus—you can’t even see them from far away.
The director Michael Greif and I talked about Angel being more of a club kid personality and more of a boy, so it’s all a little less pretty drag and more in a boy direction. In the original production, he was in zebra tights and a little Santa dress.”
Angel's Pussy Galore outfit and inspiration board.
“The whole concept behind the original costume was he took a shower curtain and added a collage behind it that he made. And so I went, okay, this time around what could he have made? I came across Paco Rabanne and thought he could have just used cool objects that he found. So we came across the smiley faces, just Plexiglas findings from Canal Street, and then drilled holes in and made chain links—my wardrobe supervisor was drilling for days making our own little Angel version of a Paco Rabanne dress. We gave him a gold jumpsuit [inspired by the character from the James Bond film].
Trash & Vaudeville still has all the classic shoes from the late Eighties and early Nineties and we also went online a lot, starting with Zappos and also websites for drag shoes like Pleaser.com.”
From left: Mimi ready for “Out Tonight”; Mimi's inspiration board.
“The dress in Act 2 was a total variation on what she used to wear—it used to be lavender and now it’s more of a deep berry and we recut the dress slightly. It just works very well and once in a while you have to say, You know what? It’s a good idea and I’m not coming up with a better one.
For the outfit when she sings ‘Out Tonight’ I have to credit Greif because he said ‘Let’s honor the lyrics’ and she says ‘I want to put on a tight skirt and flight with danger.’ So we played with the idea of the tube top becoming a skirt at that moment and that was very helpful in getting away from the bright blue sparkly pants we had before which so many people loved.
We made the leggings for ‘Out Tonight’ and I started looking at a lot of punk leggings again, ripped hose and interesting holes and then I abstracted that for ‘Out Tonight’ with really high-waisted leggings and then I put mesh into cut-out places. The coat is actually a vintage tapestry coat from the first production.”
From left: Tom Collins in dress rehearsal; Tom Collins's inspiration board.
“I was looking forward to changing his outfit. It used to be a jean shirt and jeans then he had a hunting vest over it which we customized and added some more neon orange to it. But the thing with Tom Collins is in the first five minutes of the play he loses his coat, so I did stay with a vest because if he doesn’t have that, you look at him and feel like he’s constantly cold. So I stayed with the same basic pieces but gave him a different color range and a softer fit this time around, he has a bit more of a hippie vibe to me. And we searched and searched for an early Nineties Kangol hat.”
From left: Joanne tries out a skirt; Joanne's inspiration board.
“The mud cloth [a hand-dyed, printed Malian cotton] was always Joanne’s theme, she used to have it throughout the show. So I kept it in her closet, so to speak, but we made the red leather jacket for Act 1 just because of the tango scene. We started her out in a floaty Nineties skirt, it was quite a change, we wanted to have her a little more feminine. But within the first week of previews we changed it to gaucho pants that she now has because she just has fabulous legs and we saw her body move better. My initial inspirations were actually more androgynous, but we definitely went a little more feminine—we tried to have her in a vest and skinny pants in Act 2, but ended up with a little red top and pants and high boots.”
From left: Roger in Tripp pants; Roger's inspiration board.
“In Act 2, that’s a vintage leather jacket—it says ‘Only the Good Die Young’ and it was from a Billy Joel tour, way back in the day. It’s from the original production. I think his overall look changed, he’s definitely a little more grungy and punk than he was before. And the silhouette: he used to have plaid pants before but now we went really skintight. We got some from Tripp at Trash & Vaudeville, the black and white striped ones. And then in Act 1, they’re also Tripp, but we overdyed them with green. And he still has new rock boots and the sweatshirt—the whole look of he has the hood on at beginning of the show and hides in his outfit and by Act 2, it’s much more bare sleeves. The hood and blazer [that’s circled] was a great inspiration photo.”
Maureen performs “Over the Moon” in dress rehearsal; Maureen's inspiration board.
“That’s Gwen Stefani on the board. I looked at performance artists from the late Eighties and early Nineties and I felt that Maureen is really somebody who had a costume for every occasion, so I ended up with her own version of a milkmaid outfit. That’s actually made of the old Maureen jeans—she used to wear jeans and a Wild & Lethal Trash top so we cut apart the jeans and made the dirndl skirt with the corset belt out of it. And we had her perform barefoot.”
Maureen’s New Year’s Eve ensemble and inspiration.
“Jonathan Larsen [the playwright] actually wrote into the script that she comes in in a catsuit. This time around I made it less literal—she used to have cat ears, tight pants and a jacket—and thought she’s putting her own burglar outfit together. So we have a little skirt and a big belt, inspired by a punky version of The Avengers. We made all of it—it’s actually a stretch vinyl, but it’s a four-way stretch and very thick so it reads like patent leather.”
Credit: all dress rehearsal photos are by Jonathan McPhail