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Inspiration

A Must-See Costume Exhibition as Broadway Shows Return

See stage and screen garments up-close in Times Square venue
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The short-term theatrical costume exhibition, Showstoppers! Spectacular Costumes from Stage and Screen, in New York City’s Theater District has been extended to October 31, 2021. I recently saw this wonderful collection, which showcases the range and depth of talent in the costuming industry. I’ll walk you through some highlights of the 100-plus costumes and related work on display.

A behind-the-scenes industry

The exhibition, a fundraiser, is also intended to address economic concerns brought on by the pandemic and temporary shutdown of theaters. With shows closed, the businesses that employ the artisans and craftspeople who create all the costumes have been hanging on by the thinnest of threads. To exacerbate the problem, many people have no idea the industry exists. Many theatergoers just don’t realize all the costumes, props, and other parts of a theatrical production are created from scratch—a version of couture, if you will. In a sense, this entire industry is invisible to the general public.

Shining a light on the costumes

To address this invisibility, Ernie Smith of the Penn & Fletcher embroidery house came up with the exhibition idea, showcasing the artistry employed in the different theatrical and entertainment productions. Plus, funds raised by the exhibition are to provide grants to the different workrooms that need to survive until theater is fully back in business.

Exhibition details

Find Showstoppers! Spectacular Costumes from Stage & Screen at 234 West 42nd Street in Manhattan, the heart of Times Square. The exhibition is described as “an immersive maze,” in 20,000 square feet of space. It features garments that visitors can “see up close the detail and craftsmanship typically only seen far away on stage or screen.”

Costumes draw from popular shows

The costumes come from Broadway shows, film, television, opera, dance, and other live entertainment including: A Soldier’s Play, Aladdin, Chicago, Come From Away, The Cher Show, Dear Evan Hansen, Frozen, Golden Child, Hamilton, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, The Lion King, Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Phantom of the Opera, SIX, Wicked; TV’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Dickinson” and “Saturday Night Live”; film’s Black Panther, Respect, and No Time to Die; along with costumes from the dance world including American Ballet Theatre, the Martha Graham Dance Company, New York City Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet; Opera, Disney World, Norwegian Cruise Line, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, and Broadway Bares.

Exhibition favorites

Let’s take a little tour of my favorites from this show.


Showgirls

We see, upon entering the exhibit, a spectacular collection of showgirl costumes designed by Eduardo Sicangco and executed by the Eric Winterling studio. They were created for the Norwegian Cruise Line show Paradis.

Showgirls, Showstoppers! costume exhibition

The details on these costumes are so intricate that it’s hard to believe they withstand the rigors of numerous performances.

Showstoppers exhibition showgirl costume close-up

I especially like the way they use fabric feathers, along with real ones, to create such bold and glamorous effects.

Close-up of feathers on showgirl costume


Updated 16th-century royal robes

The following set of costumes for Six, about the six wives of Henry VIII, offers a modern take on historic garments.

Costume collection from the show <em>Six</em>.

Designed by Gabriella Slade and executed by the John Paul Kristiansen studio, these costumes are a 21st-century riff on 16th-century garments. The period detailing is interpreted in modern materials, such as spandex, leather, studs, and holographic material.






Costumers at work

The exhibition displays costumes with vignettes showcasing aspects of the costumers’ art. Costume sketches and other materials add another dimension, along with outposts of some of the workrooms where costumes are constructed. Discover a working milliner and other outposts of costume shops, where you can watch pieces being made.

An outpost of John Paul Kristiansen, who is working on more costumes for Six, lets visitors witness the process and talk with some of the creative people who execute the work for these talented designers.

Showstoppers costume exhibition workroom

Another outpost is that of Penn & Fletcher, embroidery house to the theater. For an inside look at the company, see my article in Threads #167 (June/July 2013).


Lavish garments for big productions

Among the other sets of costumes on exhibit is a fan favorite, The Lion King. Designed by Julie Taymor, the costumes shown are executed by Parsons-Meares, featured in “Unsung Stars of the Stage,” Threads, #197 (June/July 2018).

Showstoppers The Lion King costumes


Phantom of the Opera is another long-running show on Broadway. The opulent costumes command attention with their lavish embellishment and beautiful construction. Penn & Fletcher, along with Parsons-Meares, are responsible for creating such enduring magic.


Hamilton burst onto Broadway and caused a sensation. Part of the production’s success is the costuming.

To understand the amount of labor involved in creating costumes for a single production, take a look at how many workrooms support Hamilton. All the costumes were designed by Paul Tazewell. The men’s uniforms are executed by Artur and Tailors, Inc., Roberta Hamelin, Colin Davis Jones, Donna Langman, Jennifer Love Costumes, Parsons-Meares, and Tricorne New York.

The men’s costumes have to be spotlessly executed, due to the fabrics they use.  The silk taffetas and satins have no margin for error.
Costume exhibition includes garments from Broadway's Hamilton
Just look at the bound buttonholes on this jacket.

The ladies’ costumes need to be changed quickly between scenes, but still must reflect the period.

The solution is faux lacing in the back, concealing a dyed-to-match zipper.


There’s more

This is by no means an exhaustive tour of the exhibition. It also includes costumes from film (Clint Ramos designs for Respect), ballet (designs by Randy Carfagno Productions for American Ballet Theatre), and television (Donna Zakowska designs for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel).

Dress from Respect, Showstoppers costume exhibition
Clint Ramos design for the film Respect.
American Ballet Theatre costumes in Showstoppers exhibit
Randy Carfagno Productions creations for the American Ballet Theatre.
Amazing Mrs. Maisel costumes in Showstoppers exhibit
Donna Zakowska designs for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

The exhibition deserves our support so if you can, go see it.

For tickets and more information, including visitors’ required proof of COVID vaccination, visit ShowstoppersNYC.com. Admission: $29 for adults; $24 for students of any age, seniors (ages 65 and over), and children (ages 3 to 12); free for younger children (ages 2 and under).

All proceeds from the exhibition benefit the Costume Industry Coalition to advocate for the survival of New York City’s custom costume industry.


Photos by Kenneth D. King

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  1. TiaJah | | #1

    My husband and I saw this in August and were blown away by the craftmanship used in creating these garments! And you can get right up close to examine them (though don't try to touch anything--an alarm goes off if you're too close).

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