April 17, 2019
Glitter... Glitter Everywhere
Original Production Costume Supervisor, Poppy Hall, and Lyric Costume Director, Maureen Reilly, discuss the technical challenges of bringing Jesus Christ Superstar to the Lyric stage
As Lyric’s Costume Director, Maureen Reilly is a pro when it comes to hoop skirts and high heels. But as opening night of Jesus Christ Superstar approaches, she reflects on the unique challenges that this ultra-contemporary production brings to Lyric.
“For one, everyone is in their tennis shoes,” Reilley explains. “And instead of fitting everyone with precisely measured costumes, we’re working with each artist in more of a styling process, buying clothes that come in sizes small, medium, or large.”
Though the music originally debuted as a concept album in 1970, there are no bell-bottom jumpsuits in sight for this updated production. Instead, the costumes draw inspiration from contemporary urban sportswear. As Poppy Hall, costume supervisor for the original 2016 production in London, describes: “The concept of the show is designed to make audiences feel like they’re at a rock gig, not necessarily at a Broadway musical or an opera. It’s not fully one or the other, but rather a combination of both.” The challenge for the costume and technical staff is to create an atmosphere on stage that young people would recognize, including modern, functional styling in organic, earthy colors.
“The only exception is Herod,” Hall continues, “who is all about opulence and camp.” Herod’s costume features a 25-foot long gold train that becomes part of the stage as it is draped behind him during his grand entrance.
So what do Reilly and Hall say are the biggest challenges of Jesus Christ Superstar?
This production uses 90 pounds of gold glitter during every performance, covering the stage and the artists, including their costumes. As any arts-and-crafts hobbyist can attest to, glitter is not easy to clean-up.
“Let’s just say the Opera House will be finding glitter for years to come,” says Hall.
In preparing for the mother of all glitter bombs, Lyric’s technical staff has updated the backstage showers to include new, specially-fitted drains, and is armed with extra clean up materials for the sets, and duplicate costumes when possible.
“Especially on days when we have two performances, we’re doing our best to have a quick turnaround” says Reilly. Luckily all of that glitter can be recycled!
Over 80 Artists Live on Stage
One difference between Lyric’s production and its original London counterpart is that Chicago’s cast and orchestra is nearly double the size. This production needs costumes for the chorus, live band, dancers, leads and understudies.
“We’ve already built, dyed, and distressed at least 40 robes,” says Reilly. “And we still have several more before opening night.” With so many artists and costume quick-changes, much of the live, behind-the-scenes work is done by a team of dressers, who track and assist the performers during all of their costume changes.
This ambitious production includes open flames. Everyone and everything within 15 feet of the open flames must be sprayed down with a fireproof solution according to governmental regulations. And for the characters who must dance and sing atop the giant set, they are equipped with safety harnesses.
“The goal is for the harness to be as invisible as possible and used for as short a time as possible,” says Hall. “The audience should just see the performance, not our safety measures.”
Reilly works with the artists to fit them with harnesses that allows them to give an authentic performance without being distracted by it. Harnesses with cumbersome buckles and loops or scratchy material are a no-go. “They should be able to fit comfortably beneath the clothes,” says Reilly. “To the performers, they should feel like they’re not even there.”
As effortless and organic as Jesus Christ Superstar looks on stage, it is the result of tireless efforts put in by the production’s technical staff. The result is a live spectacle unlike anything else seen on Lyric’s stage.
Experience this larger-than-life show for yourself, through May 20. Tickets are on sale now!