After what truly seems like the first time in forever (HI FROZEN!)… Broadway is back! What a wonderful feeling to walk around Times Square and observe all of the marquees lit up again, the people bustling about… it was truly magical. I almost felt like it was not quite real after the wild year and a half that we have all had. However, it was real… and it was EXCITING.
When we think of the word, “Broadway,” we each individually think of so many different things, right? Well, I asked a handful of family members and friends what they thought of when the word “Broadway” came to mind & I loved the variety of answers that I received. Some said, “the singing!” others said, “the big production numbers!” but the response I heard the most was “the sets, lights, and COSTUMES!”. The costumes. Who does not love going to a Broadway show to see all of the magnificent costumes shine under the radiating lights? So let’s bring on all the costumes!
Paired wonderfully with the re-opening of the Great White Way is the ‘Showstoppers!’ costume exhibit on 42nd street. I was lucky enough to be able to stop by last week to see what the engagement had to offer, and boy did it deliver! I have been to similar setups before (they are especially popular in NYC). People seem to love them and that they are quite successful. Let’s just say my expectation was high!
Located in the heart of Times Square between 7th and 8th avenue, right next to Dave and Busters and the Regal Cinemas movie theatre, the signage is impossible to miss. I was excited to enter from the looks of the colorful setup alone and could instantly tell that I was in for a treat. This experience was further heightened by the fact that PBS was shooting a special in the space. I was among the first of the day to be admitted and got to see the very tail end of them wrapping up filming. I thought, “This is about to be major!”.
The set-up reminds me of a walk-through “experience.” I would even call it a maze. Situated between two full floors are endless, dazzling costumes. Costumes from stage, screen, tv… you name it, they had it. Each category of performance was wonderfully represented by a nice range of pieces on display. The best thing about the set-up is how up close and personal you are with each piece. I have seen many of the Broadway shows whose costumes they had on display, and it was stunning to see the meticulous detail that each of them had… again, UP CLOSE. Beholding how beautiful they look from the audience is one thing. Being able to rake and observe all the details as if you were wearing them yourself is another. It is impossible to describe how special each one is! Beading can be seen in full detail; buttons and zippers shine in the overhead lights. It is impossible not to be captivated by all the art and how they perfectly represent their respective shows. It seemed to me that they perfectly picked the most show-stopping, beautiful costumes!
Projected throughout the exhibit were videos of costumers describing the ideas, inspiration, and visions that they had come up with since beginning to work on the shows. You can learn so much about how everything comes together to meet what starts off as a small, simple vision. I enjoyed learning about the materials, research, and how many people it takes to dress an entire show. Even as an actor myself, I STILL could not believe it! Sometimes it takes hundreds of people just to make one look happen (WOW!). Paired with the costumes, each show (or movie/tv show) has a description board that gives you some fun and exciting tidbits that, of course, keep you wanting more. I made sure to read every single one so that I missed nothing! For instance, Polly Kinney (theatrical beader) worked on the Broadway musical Aladdin for 10 hours a day for 5 months to ensure that everything was perfect before opening night. That is 1500 hours (and worth every standing ovation!) While Polly was beading away, designers from Chicago created a new costume for each Roxie Heart that steps into the iconic role. Although the Roxie silhouettes may be similar, costume designer William Ivey Long makes sure that each new design is unique, flattering, and perfectly functioning. It ensures that each actress is ready to comfortably and confidently dazzle in her own unique way!
Another fun surprise was that actual workstations were set up throughout space as I made my way around. Here, you can watch people live in action, doing moderations on costumes that needed to be done from shows that are actually (currently) running on Broadway. It was an unexpected surprise to truly be in the room where it happens (HELLO HAMILTON!). One gentleman was working on some moderations that needed to be done for “The Lion King,” It was fun to sit and visit with him for a bit while he shared some unique (and secret) experiences and anecdotes. This gentleman explained to us that many of the props added to the costume presentations displays were actually from the real Broadway shows (the ones not fully back open yet). One display that I found particularly neat was the famous boat that Christine and the Phantom ride in Broadway’s longest-running show, “Phantom of the Opera.” He also explained that once the show did re-open, management would come and pick up all things that had been borrowed, returning them safely to all shows they belonged to.
Although you are able to see all the beautiful work up close, you are not allowed to touch! Clear signs are posted throughout. I hilariously observed a mother gently reminding her son that he could not poke and prod at Elphaba’s Wicked Witch of the West act 2 dress (quite funny). With that being said, one of my favorite parts of the exhibit was towards the very end. Saved almost for last, there is a section where on a display rack, they have selected iconic pieces (preserved in plastic) that you are actually able to touch! They again range from stage to tv/film and back to movies. I mean, when would I ever get to touch Whoppi Goldberg’s dress from the 1985 film (later to be made into a Broadway show) “The Color Purple,” where she won a Golden Globe portraying the steadfast Cellie? Or take a picture next to one of Beyonce’s dresses that she wore playing Etta James in the 2008 film “Cadillac Records?” Never again! This all was definitely a highlight for me.
My experience ended with a trip to the delightful gift shop where you can get all of the merchandise that you may desire. Partnered exclusively with Playbill, they have endless Playbill logoed items specifically ranging from t-shirts to mugs and even puzzles. Merchandise from specific shows, such as Wicked and Hamilton, were also available in the gift shop. Gender-neutral bathrooms and wheelchair accessibility are also perfectly in tow, making us love it even that much more. Also, don’t forget to wear a mask from start to finish as it is required to get in, as is proof of vaccination.
All in all, I would give the entire day a solid 10/10. Nothing beats the never-ending magic of Broadway, and this fun interactive tour is a perfect representation of what that is. Perfectly made, hand-crafted magic. The behind-the-scenes views that allowed us to observe how beloved characters from the productions that we all know and adore got to their finished, polished, outward personas was most definitely worth the price of a ticket, and then some. Any child (or adult) is sure to have a wonderful time learning all that I was able to learn while seeing all of the amazing workstations. ‘Showstoppers’ shines with gusto, and I can’t wait to go back!
Showstoppers is extending the exhibition by popular demand through December 5th!