Anyone who has been backstage at a fashion show, where models disrobe in seconds and rush back out to the catwalk wearing an entirely new look, knows how stressful changing clothes can be. But imagine if the stakes were raised to a high-profile Broadway show, where four actors must don about 40 costumes in two acts.
That’s exactly what happens in The 39 Steps, a loving spoof of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, which comes to New York in January following a hit run in London. Costume designer Peter McKintosh was charged with making the madness work. Little did he know what he was getting into.
He started with simple base costumes and minimal makeup. From there, McKintosh cops to using “every trick in the book,” like hidden Velcro and snaps. Also needed were the efforts of a costume supervisor and an army of assistants. The costume design is “a tribute to the film,” says McKintosh, who began by looking at the original celluloid version for ideas. “Some things we liked, we pinched; other stuff we just had to invent.”
But adapting the movie’s costumes was not easy. “In film, when you get your first image of something, you get a close-up. On stage, you get the whole thing,” he says. “One dress,” for example, “would look ridiculously classical in the wrong way. We didn’t want the character to get a big laugh.”
McKintosh has to make a set of costumes for each new production of the play. After New York, the show goes to Israel, Australia and South Korea, which will bring the production up to 10 shows total. “Those are just the ones I know about,” McKintosh jokes.
The 39 Steps
Jan. 4–March 23
The Roundabout Theatre Company
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd Street