March 06, 2019

Costuming for THE KING AND I

Sumptuous silks in vividly saturated jewel hues. Opulent golden brocades and shimmering fish-scale sequins. Breathtaking beadwork. Impossibly elaborate royal headdresses and fanciful masks. Harem pants and hoop skirts. Embossed and curly-toed leather slippers.

Prepare for an eye-poppingly beautiful experience when you come to see and hear The King and I at Lyric this spring. The classic Rodgers and Hammerstein story and songs will enchant you, the dances will dazzle you, and the gorgeous costumes designed by Sue Blane will positively blow you away.

The sheer numbers are astonishing. The 14 children have three costumes each, the 13 ensemble men have four costumes each, the eight women dancers and ten singing women and two Amazons have four looks each, and the 12 principals have three costumes each — except for Anna, who has five. That adds up to well over 200 costumes!

The gorgeous garments arrived in December by shipping container from Paris, where they made their debut at the Théâtre du Châtelet in 2014. Lyric’s costume director Maureen Reilly and wardrobe supervisor Lucy Lindquist and their staff then “inventoried and measured and organized for everyone. The designer’s assistant came from France and helped us source fabric for some new costumes. We have a different number of people than were in the Paris production, and different sizes, and some understudies who are also in the cast.” (The two have worked together for years and finish each other’s sentences, so they both get credit for these comments!) New costumes for the two boys — Anna’s son and the prince — were made in Wisconsin by Kitty Schweitzer and her Seams Unlimited team, along with pieces for Captain Orton, the interpreter, and Lady Thiang, who needed a remake of everything.

Costume fittings began in mid-March for local children in the cast, and will go into overdrive when everyone arrives for rehearsals April 4. There are lots of Indian and Chinese and Thai silks that are gilt, embroidered, and printed for the wives and kids, and elaborate Siamese headdresses — “the king’s were built in Paris, and the dancers’ headdresses were purchased,” says Maureen. “The children will wear these charming elephant headdresses. And there are Balinese masks which have had some additional paint applied.”

Lyric’s Anna, Broadway star Kate Baldwin, will wear rehearsal skirts initially and then “the hoops” to get used to having a 220-inch circumference! Several performers will eventually have to rehearse quick changes, and also get accustomed to wearing masks, headdresses, and hoop skirts as appropriate to their characters.

In addition to all the costumes there’s the hair — which in this production isn’t as complicated as in Lyric’s previous musicals, says Sarah Hatten, Lyric’s wigmaster and makeup designer. “Most of the performers will use their own hair with added hair pieces — top knots and accessories,” she says. “Anna has just one wig, and the king uses his own hair. All the boys and girls have topknots, as do the women. Most of the men will use their own hair.” All are being created in Lyric’s wig shop; nothing was sent from Paris.

“This is actually a smaller show for us,” Sarah notes. “There aren’t as many changes of hairstyle because the whole show takes place in a single time period. It’s more manageable than previous shows; we can accomplish what we need to in a normal amount of time.”

You won’t want to miss The King and I, with “Something Wonderful” to see and hear from the first moment to the final bow.

The Costumes of Rodgers and Hammerstein's THE KING & I

Lyric Opera premiere generously made possible by The Negaunee Foundation, two Anonymous DonorsRobert S. and Susan E. Morrison, and Northern Trust

Rodgers & Hammerstein's THE KING AND I 
Music by Richard Rodgers   Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II   Based on Anna and the King by Margaret Landon   Original Orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett   Original Dance Arrangements by Trude Rittmann   Original Choreography by Jerome Robbins

The King and I production created by the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris on June 13, 2014. General Director: Jeanluc Choplin. Photo: Marie-Noëlle Robert

Photos: Todd Rosenberg