Consider William Ivey Long Broadway’s Fairy Godfather. For one, you’re lucky if you catch sight of him: The costume design impresario, who’s earned six Tony awards and a place in the Theatre Hall of Fame, is simultaneously working on not one or two, but four Broadway shows. Secondly, he’s the man behind the wardrobe of fashion’s favorite fairy tale, Cinderella (name another one that hinges on a life-changing pair of shoes).
A performance of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella has just ended when Mr. Long, fresh from a fitting with Michelle Williams and playing hooky from a tech rehearsal for his upcoming production of Bullets Over Broadway, met with us over a glass of fittingly-named Once Upon A Vine’s Pinot Noir to talk inspiration, what designing for Fran Drescher means and what’s next for this living legend.
How far in advance do you start preparing for such a huge production like Cinderella?
This one was special because they asked me early. I started working with the director, and I think we worked for a year and a half, which is very long. Usually, it’s a year or slightly under a year—I know that sounds crazy.
Is everything made here in New York?
Everything is based out of New York. All the clothes, the wigs and the shoes were made in New York by New York artist. Even the fabrics were all purchased here.
Where do you find inspiration for a production on this scale?
You meet with the director and figure out… Well, you read the script… Well, you say ‘yes!’ [laughs] Then you ask the director if you are doing a concept. For Cinderella, you are doing a fairy tale, so how do we discover what the fairy tale is? [We used] this thing called Drop Box on the computer; the set designer, director and myself all put things in it. We printed them all out and put them all along the room in my studio and just lived with them. The forest became part of the inspiration, the butterfly imagery… That’s how we all started, by just looking at pictures. Free association. Total mood board all around.
What are some of your favorite costumes in the show?
Oh, my goodness. I love the fox and the raccoon (pictured above). Two puppets, who—with a bit of magic—become the driver and footman for Cinderella’s carriage. Because they are sort of ‘American Ballet Theatre.’ That’s a whole different type of costume design; there’s some subtlety there, and I had fun with that. I don’t know if they are my favorites, but they are the most quirky.
Then I re-designed it all for Fran Drescher [Madame the Evil Stepmother]. Four new dresses. Absolute new designs.
How did you alter the designs for her?
Leopard! Notice the fur. There is leopard all over the place. That became one of our images in the forest!
And the same for Carly Rae Jepsen, who plays Cinderella?
The Cinderella [role] is iconic, at least in our production. The costumes were sort of set, especially with all of the magic transformations. I was amazed and pretty impressed that Carly Rae didn’t mind losing her bangs. You know, she is her own brand. She is so confident, so unique, but it wasn’t the bangs, it’s that voice, that personality—she is completely durable. Everyone backstage is completely in love with her. Honest to God. She knows everyone’s name. It’s tricky following Laura Osnes, who created [the role], and is beloved by Broadway. But now Carly Rae is so beloved.
What’s next for you?
I’m playing Bullets Over Broadway. I’m playing hooky from it. I’m in tech. We have our first audience Monday. And then I’m doing Cabaret; we have our first dress rehearsal tomorrow. So I’m a very busing boy! I had a fitting with Michelle Williams [for Cabaret] this morning. This is her first Broadway show as well.
So many screen actors coming to Broadway! How do you feel about it?
Well, bring them on! It’s very exciting. Especially if they are artists of the caliber that we are discussing. The two tonight [Fran Drescher and Carly Rae Jepson] and then Michelle Williams—I mean, come on! We are just going to benefit from it. And it’s inspiring. I think it’s very inspiring for the mix, the cross-pollination. Film and Broadway. What is so exciting for me, because I’ve done films as well, is for the Broadway kids to see how hard the film people do work. It’s a totally different medium, a totally different process. Everything is different. And they are working their butt off.
Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella can be seen at The Broadway Theatre. Click here for more info.