Written by Mo Brady (Barnaby) 3/16/09:
While staging "Put On Your Sunday Clothes," David Armstrong, our director, casually told Greg Allen (Cornelius) and I that we would have a quick change during the number. It would begin with Cornelius and I getting out of our work clothes onstage, running offstage, and returning in our "Sunday Clothes" a few moments later. At the time, this seemed perfectly manageable. In Seven Brides, I had a couple of quick changes during the song "Goin' Courtin'," and managed those without a hitch. I figured that anything we did in Hello, Dolly! couldn't be any more challenging.
I was wrong.
During tech, I realized that this was going to be the quick change to end all quick changes. The quickest change, if you will. David gave me the formidable tasking of leaving the stage in my period underwear (or, as I like to call it, my "onesie") and coming back onstage fully dressed only 21 seconds later. 21 seconds, from the moment we finish singing "Until we've kissed a girl," til the moment we return singing "Beneath your parasol the world is all a smile." I knew that David would devise a plan for us to make the costume change possible, although at the time I wondered how.
A major player in the costume change is my dresser, Rita. I knew from our work together on Seven Brides that she is fantastically thorough, attentive and speedy. However, even with her help, the change seemed impossible at first. In fact, the first time that Greg and I tried the quick change, it took almost double the 21 seconds we have in the show. We knew it would take a lot of practice and some creative thinking to turn this costume change into theatrical magic.
In order to devise the plan, David scheduled a couple of rehearsals just for this one quick change. While tech rehearsals continued upstairs, the quick change was rehearsed downstairs in DAT5. Rita and I, along with Greg, his dresser Marlys, our associate director, Aaron Tuttle, and other members of the wardrobe, music, and stage management departments, ran the change again and again. Eventually, we broke it down move by move, creating an order that made it easy to move from costume piece to the next, and that allowed both actor and dresser to be working simultaneously.
The wardrobe and costume departments also manipulated many of the costume pieces so that they could be changed quickly. Most pieces are "quick rigged," with velcro on shirts and pants instead of buttons, or elastic instead of shoe laces. However, some of the pieces needed to be altered so much, that we were given a new set of costumes, just for "Put On Your Sunday Clothes." Rita and I took some pictures, to show you exactly how we create this piece of theatrical magic.
This is the costume I wear when I return onstage after the quick change. It looks like a normal suit, except for that a close eye might notice that there are no shirt sleeves around my wrist. While wearing this costume, I mime tugging on shirt sleeves with my fingers a couple of times. Hopefully, you can't tell from a few rows back...
However, this is what the costume looks like without the suit jacket. As you can see, I wear only the collar of the dress shirt, which has a pre-tied bow tie attached to the neck. The shirt collar is snapped to the vest, so that all three pieces can be put on at the same time. The shoes have pre-tied laces, so Rita can easily slip my feet into them with a shoe horn.
After "Put On Your Sunday Clothes," Greg and I have more time. Therefore, we use the beginning of the Hat Shop scene to complete the costume change. After we ride the train out of Yonkers, I change into this costume. As you can see, it includes a completely different set of shoes, and a new shirt. Rita and I also take off the onesie and replace it with an undershirt, add kneepads (for all of that crawling around in Mrs. Molloy's Hat Shop,) and attach the pre-tied bow tie to a neck strap.
And here is the complete look that I wear for the next scene. A virtually undetectable costume change from the one I wear in "Put On Your Sunday Clothes." With a lot of planning by David and Aaron, rigging by the costume and wardrobe departments, and fast changing by Rita and I, the resulting quick change impresses the audience and helps draw them into the excitement of our New York adventure.