Tony Awards: 'Cinderella' costume designer shares his inspiration

When Cinderella transforms from brown workaday togs to the most exquisite ball gown, the audience at the Broadway Theatre bursts into applause.

When the town eccentric, outfitted in rags, bursts forth as the perfect fairy godmother, like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, the crowd taking in "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella" gasps.

These costumes, which seem to transform before our eyes, are magical. That's because of Tony Award nominee William Ivey Long, who's also chairman of the American Theatre Wing, founder of the Tony Awards.

He's designing a costume specifically for the live awards show airing on CBS Sunday (June 9).

"Cinderella" is Long's 65th Broadway show, and he has been nominated for 13 Tonys -- winning five times, an extraordinarily high number. Long talks fondly of growing up in the theater in North Carolina, where his mother was an actress and his father was a professor and director.

"I have never made a separation of theater from life because it has always been the family business, and I currently live in a theater," he tells Zap2it, referring to his Soho studio.

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Cinderella's gown looks as if it could float because of the petticoats. "It is emotionally based on, not stitch by stitch, but the ball gown Claudia Cardinale wears in 'The Leopard,'" Long says. "It is sort of 1860. It just means something to me. I have a reaction to that shape. Maybe it's 'Gone With the Wind,' and I am from the South. This was Sicilian 1860, and something about Claudia Cardinale walking in with Alain Delon on one hand and Burt Lancaster on the other is sort of the pinnacle of what heterosexuality means to me."

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Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel was on Long's mind when he designed Cinderella's mundane clothes because Bruegel was one of the few who recorded what peasants wore. The evil stepmother and stepsisters are more based on 16th-century Italian noblewoman Catherine de' Medici. "It is the one time the whole family is a family," Long says of this shot. "All of the colors relate. I wanted everyone to feel everyone is in the same world, even though Cinderella is in homespun cotton and wool, and they are in taffeta and lace."

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This costume, which looks as if it were made of gossamer, is a mix of metallic gauze and eight shades of pink, purple and mauve, layered and cut to reflect the shimmer. "I put Swarovski jewels on the magic people: the fairy godmother, Cinderella's ball gown, the fox, the raccoon and their unicorn because they were magical," he says.

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As far as evil stepsisters go, Gabrielle isn't really mean. Her peach gown is made from layers of Lurex. The man in purple plays the rabble-rouser, and Long wanted him and another antagonist in blue, separating them from the other players' palettes.

All Long would divulge about the amazing quick changes characters do is: "Each lady is totally self-sufficient and does each of her transformations herself."

Photo/Video credit: Carol Rosegg