From Page to Screen to Stage: The Costumes of Broadway's Big Fish, With Designer William Ivey Long
A look inside the six-time Tony Award winner’s Walker Street studio.
You'd think one of Broadway's most prolific costume designers would have his office in the theater district, but no, William Ivey Long, the six-time Tony winner currently represented in midtown by Chicago, Cinderella, and Big Fish, makes his work home Tribeca's quaint Walker Street. Outdoors, the only distinguishing factor is a small green sign announcing its presence. Inside, it's a treasure trove of theater history and boxes upon boxes of different fabrics.
"I've wanted this studio since before I even knew I wanted anything," Long says proudly, while taking us on a walking tour of his design room in the basement. On this journey, we're focusing on Big Fish, the new Andrew Lippa-John August musical based on the film and novel of the same title, but it's impossible to forgo discussion of his other shows, including Cinderella, for which he won his most recent Tony, and the upcoming Broadway premiere of Bullets Over Broadway.
His research materials for each one are all over the place, back to back on insulation boards, and you never know when one will come in handy for the other. "This page," he says pointing to a board, "was for Cinderella and it was on the other side. I turned it around and said, 'Here's the key to the Witches [of Big Fish]. They match the tree.'"
How does he begin his work? "You ask the director," Long says. "If you're doing a film-to-stage [transfer, you ask,] ‘Should I be aware of the film or should I not?' In this case, it was book-to-film-to-stage. In almost every case, the answer from the director or the producers is no." The one exception, he quickly adds, is Grey Gardens. "We really wanted to evoke Little Edie as much as possible, [but] I reimagined it because Christine [Ebersole] was singing and changing clothes at the same time."
After he meticulously researches the periods, Long meets with the creative team to suggest colors. "There's a lot of faded red, white, and blue," he notes of his palette for Big Fish. This is followed by sketching, shopping, and fittings. In certain cases, the performers even get to pick the color of their outfits. "In Cinderella," he says, "I let the girls pick the colors [of their ball gowns] with me. Sometimes, I can guess their colors quicker than they can…We try to do that, even if they don't have lines."
One of Long's specialties — and favorites — is transformations. "I love them. Can you tell?" he says with a laugh. "I don't want you to know [how they're done]. I want you to die trying. And yet, I leave a little hint."
Given his six individual Tony Award honors, that fact is very apparent. Will he add another to his mantle for Big Fish? Go behind the scenes with his work in the gallery below.