Zippers, he says, are the superior closure. And he would know, because he’s overseeing all the wardrobe changes for the show, of which there are many. The Dreams have 11 sets of matching gowns, to begin with, plus daywear and individual evening looks — about 20 outfits per Dream.
“I’d go as far as to say that there’s no moment in the show, with the exception of moments when everyone is onstage, that there isn’t a change going on backstage,” Labovitz said.
“Dreamgirls” tells the story of a girl group, the Dreams, trying to make it big in the music industry, only to find they might not want all the things they thought they wanted. You’re probably familiar with the “Dreamgirls” aesthetic, either from the Broadway show or the movie starring Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson.
Labovitz has other secrets to getting the quick changes done. To give you an example of “quick,” there’s one that involves all three Dreams changing into new outfits in six seconds. The Dreams wear strapless dresses beneath trapeze dresses. The trapeze dresses have a zipper from neck to hem. The singers step behind a piece of scenery, each Dream’s designated wardrobe person zips off the dresses and the women go back onstage.
Plenty of productions leave that change out, but Labovitz felt he couldn’t cut it. “The idea of not having the change there, especially with the possibility of a surprise, just seemed like a tragic loss,” he said. “It’s exciting to see these changes that we don’t expect, that there isn’t time for, that’s a total transformation.”
During another scene, one Dream is auditioning to perform in a nightclub. She comes in clad in day wear. Over the course of the song, the light focus narrows until there’s just a spotlight on her face. When the light expands again, we’ve flashed forward: She’s gotten the gig and is performing at the club — in an evening gown.
“We get almost a cinematic feel, like a jump cut,” Labovitz said. “Suddenly, she’s wearing something new.”
How does it work? The skirt of the gown becomes a draped top that hooks at the shoulders. While she’s singing during her audition, she pops the skirt at her shoulders. Instantly, she’s in a dress.
“From my point of view, the costumes are characters,” Labovitz said. “We see the transformation of these women partially in the way they present themselves.”
Through Jan. 6 at 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington; www.signature-theatre.org; 703-820-9771.
Good news for Spooky Action
There’s some good news over at Spooky Action Theater in Dupont Circle: The Advisory Neighborhood Commission voted unanimously in support of a variance to allow Spooky Action to continue using the basement auditorium at the Universalist National Memorial Church.