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How Do You Dress a Woman Like Maria?


Kerstin Anderson in "The Sound of Music."

Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The new national tour of The Sound of Music, which launches at the Ahmanson Theatre (and plays through October 31, 2015), breaks new ground on a number of levels—not least of which is in the costuming.

“The movie and most of the productions of the show have really not been done in period,” Director Jack O’Brien told Center Theatre Group. “If you look at the movie, the clothes are very 1960s. I’m doing this in 1938, which is when it’s supposed to be.”

How have the outfits of Maria and company changed over the past half-century? We asked Ted Chapin, president and director of Rodgers & Hammerstein, to tell us what has gone into the nuns’ habits, the children’s uniforms, and all that dirndl…

Chapin started at the very beginning, explaining that “when The Sound of Music was first produced, it was a star vehicle for Mary Martin, and she had her designer”—Mainbocher—design all her costumes. (They’re now in the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.) “A star in those days was able to do that,” said Chapin, adding that Tony Award®-winning costume designer Lucinda Ballard designed the rest of the costumes in the original Broadway production. (“Lucinda Ballard’s costumes are up to her own standard,” wrote Brooks Atkinson in his New York Times review of the show.)

“I don’t know if Broadway types were ready to embrace everything Austria stood for in those days,” said Chapin. This was “a play that was about recent history in 1959, and not necessarily pleasant recent history. I’m not sure if it was a conscious decision to turn down the dirndl aspect” of the costumes.

By 1965, when the movie version premiered, the past was a bit further away; Chapin described those costumes as “Salzburg via Hollywood,” and said that many productions simply try to emulate the film onstage—exactly the opposite of what O’Brien is planning for the North American tour that just launched at the Ahmanson.

However, all Sound of Music productions do have a few things in common when it comes to the costumes. The demands of this show are “pretty specific,” said Chapin. “By the very nature of what a nun or a postulant wears,” for instance, “it tends to cover up everything but the face. So designers have tried to figure out, how can you expose as much of the face and head as possible so the character can come across, as opposed to burying the face in black and white?”

Chapin said that when it comes to Maria and the von Trapp children’s outfits made from curtains, “the costume designer always tries to be as ugly as he or she possibly can be.” But this is just one example, he said, of how the current production is finding room for innovation and creativity from the script itself.

The costume designer “was very excited” by finding fabric that “has all kinds of life and birds and flowers on it,” said Chapin. It “has the very life in it that Maria’s life is full of.”

For a sneak peek at the costumes in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music at the Ahmanson Theatre, check out production photos on the Center Theatre Group Facebook page. For more on costumes from CTG, check out our #EveryCostume tells a story posts on Twitter and Instagram.

The costumes of The Sound of Music

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