With a tale as old as time, Disney's Beauty and the Beast opens tonight at the Hippodrome. Based off of the Academy Award-winning animated film, the musical is guaranteed to dazzle you with its classic songs, lavish sets, and beautiful costumes. We talked with Ann Hould-Ward, who won the 1994 Tony award for her costume design for the show, to find out what it takes to bring the character's wardrobes to life.
Have you always been a costume designer?
I was born and raised in rural, northern Montana and, since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a costume designer. We could not afford paper dolls, so I made my own and drew and cut out all their clothing. I was given the great good fortune of receiving a full scholarship to Mills College, which changed my life. I followed that by attending graduate school at the University of Virginia.
How did you get involved with Beauty and the Beast?
I was asked to design Beauty in 1993. We did beginning design and prototype work for about a year before working on the actual Broadway production began in the shops. I have designed the costumes for all the international Disney productions of the original Broadway show aided by a huge wonderful group of associates through the years.
What is your design process like?
My design process is my own darn fault, mainly because I love research and learning about history and what was happening at various times in the world. All of the fashion is dictated by who is in power in the world and what they are wearing—political leaders, entertainers, etc. This has always been true, and our movement is governed by our clothing. Therefore, to understand a period and its relationship to a theater piece, you need to study the history of the place the piece is taking place, the people there, and their culture.
Did you draw inspiration from the many versions and variations of this story when designing?
I spent months with the many, many illustrations of the story along with meeting and talking with the original animators of the Beauty and the Beast animated feature film. We studied the fashion of the period the late 1700s when the story was first written down, and also since so much of it is furniture, we spent a lot of time trying to find the relationships between fashion and furniture design during the period.
Where do you draw the line of taking inspiration but still remaining original?
I think you study and study all the research, and then you go back to the original story and create your own world for the show with your collaborators.
How accurate is the final product to the preliminary sketches?
It depends. Preliminary sketches, final sketches that go to the costume shops, working with the shops, fittings with the actors, technical rehearsals, and previews—it is all a living and changing process. [See below for examples of Ward's sketches.]
What is your favorite costume in the show?
I think it is Belle’s yellow dress because it appears at such a beautiful point in the music and lighting of the show.
The show has been running for several years. How often do you update costumes?
Each year there is a rehearsal period during which the show is refit and replacements of costumes are made so it is kept in excellent condition. I have an associate, Christopher Vergara, who dedicates a lot of time to making sure it looks great, along with the full time wardrobe staff on the show which travel with and maintain the show.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently sitting in the theater in Salzburg, Austria at the Salzburg Festival waiting for the first costume dress rehearsal of their new production of West Side Story starring Cecilia Bartoli to begin. I go from here in a week to St. Petersburg, Russia to tech and open a new ballet with Lar Lubovitch choreographing at the Mikhailovsky Theater at the end of May.