the captivating and tantilizing... (ladylizaelliott) wrote,
the captivating and tantilizing...

Costume Analysis; The Designer Emerges


ladylizaelliott as designer/costumer student throws in her two cents (more like 1 dollar)

The King and I: Royal Albert Hall June 2009
Starring; Maria Friedman, Daniel Dae Kim
Directed by: Jeremy Sams
Set/Costumes: Robert Jones

**Added note from the Sunday June 28th Final show**

Now in the case with most classic plays/musicals, it seems each show has had an iconic look or single designer whose work on the original production has made its impact into later revivals and incarnations (it can run the gamut from other major Bway/West End revivals, to regional and high school etc) The King and I does fall in this catagory of being one of the major musicals in the Rodgers and Hammerstein (and musical theatre ether) of having iconic costumes thanks to the beauty, simplicity and splendor of the original designs by Irene Sharaff in 1951. Sharaff was also hired to costume the Hollywood production in 1955-6, so her look between Gertrude Lawrence and Deborah Kerr's differed only in technical detail and not overall design presentation.

In my education I've had in the last three years with design, mostly with one URI professor and designer David T. Howard ( and my own earlier design experiences (growing up drawing paper doll clothes, seeing my own versions of things) I am in the same ideology of design in that when given the task of designing a show (or in what my case is mostly, a specific interpretation of character) I am a firm believer in what Stephen Sondheim writes in Sunday in the Park with George: 'Give us more to see' (When I heard DTH use this in class I nearly leapt from my seat). So like I've written here so blatently before, in my educations of The King and I during my days of research with Gertrude Lawrence, I had revisited the film version, and started having visions of my own on the costumes of Anna Leonowens. This was an ongoing thing for a few weeks during the one of the productions I worked on at URI and I had open discussions and debates about the costuming for the character of Anna with DTH.

Needless to say, upon hearing lady Friedman was going to be Anna, my second thought after thinking of what marvellous acting/interpretation I was in to see, I also waited in anticipation to see what the costume designer, Robert Jones, was going to show us. And in some part, during my research of the show with Gertie, my design visions were either inspired by Gertie herself or imaginations of if the day ever came that Maria Friedman would portray Anna (and if for some crazy unbelievable circumstance I should find myself at the sewing machine or sketchbook). And also out of the curiousity and hope that Robert Jones may do the same homage to some of the details in the original book, Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Langdon, that I would do (namely a detail of Anna having a pin with the two leopard teeth from the hunting excursion Tom had the heat-stroke and died from).

To start, I was very interested in the choice of fabric Robert Jones made in the first outfit for Anna in the Harbour, an exquisite black and blue pinstriped skirt, bodice and bolero with bishop sleeves and a black hairpiece. Having, again, been used to seeing the heavily reproduced look belonging to Irene Sharaff's original design (the often light blue and white pinstripe with the bonnet, white gloves etc) I was compelled into thinking that Robert Jones not only may have taken the aesthetic choice to put her in darker colors to show the contrast of the Past (England, the travel, Anna's lifestyle outside of the palace) to the color and opulence of the Siamese palace, but also it made me wonder if the presence of black was a clue in to again show the perhaps still strong sense of mourning over the loss of Tom. The dress's first impression was that of a transition, a step Anna takes from leaving England and the heartache of losing her husband, and moving forward into the brighter world potentially that Siam would be. Robert Jones achieves this, and for the day scenes and other numbers in Act 1 (and end of the show), she is in a similar silhoutte to Sharaff's blue and white pinstripe. Having Friedman in the blue and white pinstripe the entire time (without this beautiful surprise of the darker opening dress) would have made me much less interested in the design because of its similarity to Sharaff. He fulfils the audience expectation with the familiarity of the designs, but still gives his own perspective.

The ballgown. Now there was much talk and talk about this particular article of clothing between myself and my costume professor. I have, at least in my aesthetic for this show, have had the question of where, if Anna only had a day, did the dress come from? Was it made in Singapore and shipped? Did she make it herself? If so, are the fabrics English or fabrics found in Siam at the time, in other words, fabric available to the monarchy? My personal take, and once again should I ever find myself at the sketchbook or machine making this, is that I would use the dress as a symbol of the coexisting relationship between East and West now existing between Anna and the King, western cut with Siamese fabrics and trims. The design by Irene Sharaff (which is still so beautiful, iconic, and probably much more sensual than Robert's with the almost nude toned champagne/violet silk and inset of white chiffon with sequins) was thrown completely out the window with Robert Jone's design, which made me more thrilled than anything when I finally saw the press photos from this production. Instead, to match the opulence of the actual Royal Albert Hall itself and its evocation of the Siamese palace, Anna's gown is theoretically the same as I had entertained; a marriage of East and West (western cut with eastern fabrication). But much bolder, in that Robert Jones really did surprise me by making it a patterned lace and not a solid color. It is the boldest statement made in the show for Anna's design of all the pieces, and I was so pleased with the reception it got with the audiences, who sometimes would clap for not only her, but the costume on her entrance in Act II. Also, I applaud the red shawl, the much more blatent but still tasteful manifestation of the new sexuality in the King's perspective on Anna. Like I said, really bold and new and refreshing as a design and still upholding the expectation of spectacle on the audience.

Daniel Dae Kim's King is another refreshing look, which is interesting in the contridiction between how physically fit and handsome he is that he could have easily held the same design aesthetic as Yul Brenner (and his many design copies) with the bare chest and open jacket. Instead, Jones (and Dae Kim perhaps) reject the idea of displaying his sexuality so openly and instead the King wears fitted sleeveless tunics in fine fabrics or golden embroidery. For me, it helped with looking at him in a less severly foreign and 'savage' way that I felt viewing Brenner, and it makes Anna's attraction less of a sexual nature initially, literally only until the moment he puts his hand on her waist.

Another connection Robert Jones made with color is his tie between the color Blue as the symbolic connection between the women of the piece. The only lead women ever in blue are Anna and Lady Thiang, which is the given, the two major women in the King's life. So when the end tableau comes together, you get the King in his reds on the bed, surrounded by the two points of white and blue, and the outer perimeter of the stage filled with all the other colors, the golds, greens, oranges, purples and yellows. The Kralahome is a mix, shown in blues and purples, and Tuptim also in a symbolic garb; the tone of her dress in a purple/blue with this almost uncomfortable looking red sash going from shoulder to waist and across, the literal and metaphorical cage around Tuptim. Lun Tha too, in the tones of Blue/Purple and gold. Anyone who's love seems to transcend or is in the more 'western' ideology according to Anna's beliefs is in blue (this would work for the Kralahome too, in his uncompromising love for his King and the King he knew).

***Sunday note is I realized that while watching 'We Kiss in A Shadow' the line Anna has in Act II popped into my head 'Every man is a King and every woman a Queen when they love one another' and completely made the connection between the color palatte of purple for the two lovers. Like before, either I read into this too much or it really is very smart design on Robert's part. I will think its' the latter, for his sake!

Ok. I think that's it, and I know I've already typed far more or thought about this at such a length that I've got to get out the rock music and wake everyone up, but for those who have read it, thank you, it takes a very special person to deal with my level of observation and enthusiasm. I wish I could actually talk to these designers, and get into their heads because I am addicted to what that process is, and how it is interpreted and whether or not I've successfully read the costumes the way the designer intended, and am wondering how often that happens for a designer. Probably not very often. So Robert Jones if you ever read this, I hope you enjoy!

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