A GLAM SLAM TALKS TO BRONX BOMBERS COSTUME DESIGNER DAVID C. WOOLARD
New York Yankees history is brought to life on stage, with the new Broadway production of “Bronx Bombers.” Fans are offered an inside look at the most storied franchise in baseball, as the show centers around Yogi Berra and his wife Carmen, through a century of the team’s trials and triumphs. “Bronx Bombers” officially opens on February 6th, at the Circle in the Square Theatre. For additional information, visit bronxbombersplay.com.
Generations of Yankee greats including Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Mickey Mantle and Derek Jeter, are among the featured players. David C. Woolard, the show’s costume designer, aimed to make these Yankee personalities as identifiable as possible to show-goers and baseball fans. Fashion played an integral role in creating authentic and truthful characters, as no detail was left unturned, from personal style choices to different eras of pinstripes.
A Glam Slam saw a preview performance of “Bronx Bombers,” and spoke with Woolard about the process of designing the costumes, and the challenges and pressures of satisfying passionate Yankees fans. Check it out:
(photo via bronxbombersplay.com)
The first scene of the play brings Yogi Berra, Thurman Munson, Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson together in 1977. Each has such a distinct sense of style and the clothing choices brought their colorful personalities to life. Can you talk about the process of creating their outfits and how/why you decided on those particular ensembles?
When I first started, I did tons of research on the characters themselves because they’re existing people. It was great seeing the style that they carried. I actually remember going to the Billy Martin store up on Madison Avenue in the 80’s, before it closed. In reading the script, I knew that I wanted to push them a little, not to make them caricatures, but to make sure that we really got the swagger of Reggie Jackson. I thought that kind of leisure suit idea was a pretty great look for him, with the Cuban heeled boots to give him a little extra height, so he can throw his weight around a little more against Billy Martin, who is of course in his cowboy boots because he’s totally doing his Texas look. I also wanted to make sure that both of those characters were kind of coming to do battle in a sense, so they had on their game uniform. For Yogi, I wanted to do something that was pretty controlled, because he’s kind of the referee in that scene. He’s trying to make everything work.
A lot of people who are coming to this show know these people well, and they’re expecting to see Reggie, Billy, Yogi. So I’m trying to deliver that as much as I can, down to the wigs. Bill Dawes, who plays Thurman Munson and Mickey Mantle, his wig for Thurman Munson, I tried to get that disheveled look for him because he seemed to not really care about his clothes, although I know he did. Also in Reggie Jackson, making sure that his sunglasses were totally perfect, his wig is totally great. I thought all of those things were really important. It was a great challenge to make these people, knowing that they had to be very real and identifiable and yet just make them a little bit theatrical. In fittings, when we were having that suit built for the actor, Francois Battiste, he put it on as Reggie Jackson and it was like, oh yea, I’m totally the guy.
(Francois Battiste as Reggie Jackson; photo via bronxbombersplay.com)
(Keith Nobbs as Billy Martin; photo via bronxbombersplay.com)
The Yankee pinstripes are among the most iconic uniforms in sports. With years of Yankee greats featured side-by-side in the play, it was important to distinguish between them. What did you do to ensure authenticity/accuracy when replicating the uniforms?
This was the biggest learning curve I think I’ve ever had on a show. Starting to do the research on all the uniforms, there’s a blog [YankeesUniformDatabase.Blogspot.com/] and it lists every year of the Yankees and what their uniforms looked like. After talking to the Yankees and doing some of my own research, I ended up coming across this blog and looking at a lot of what he had there, which was very valuable just to help me identify, to see where I wanted to place the uniforms. With Babe Ruth, we knew we wanted 1921 because that’s a very specific uniform and it looks very different. There’s actually this little band around the neck, a bias of a stranded fabric, and even that’s there in this costume. I don’t think many if any people will notice unless they’re total aficionados of period uniforms. But that sort of detail was in there, in all these different uniforms.
Also I dealt with Ebbets Field Flannels and they built all of the pre-1972 uniforms, when they were in the wool flannels. They’re a company based in Seattle, and were really helpful in getting the correct detailing for all of these uniforms. Jerry, one of the owners of Ebbets Field Flannels, happened to be in New York when we were in previews Off-Broadway. He came to the preview and he knew all of this sort of stuff and it was so great to have him here and looking at everything as well.
For the 1972 Reggie Jackson and the Derek Jeter uniforms, I went through the Yankees themselves and they were very helpful in getting me in contact with Majestic. They were able to get me what I needed for this, because the Yankees went to that polyester uniform in 1972. They were the last major league team to turn to polyester.
Can you talk about the inspiration behind Carmen Berra’s wardrobe?
In reading the script and thinking about the show and knowing that I was going to have a lot of Yankee uniforms, because it is such an American show, I did want to stay as much as I could in the red, white and blue world as far as colors go. Carmen’s a very elegant woman and so I wanted that blue robe to begin with just so there was the sense of elegance to it. It’s not overstated, it’s not glamorous, it’s not like Zsa Zsa Gabor feathers and rhinestones or anything, it’s just a very simple silk robe. For Act 2, for the dream, I really wanted to make her pop. That’s why I used that red floral pattern for that dress and again, I just wanted to hark back to, because it’s about the Stork Club and the glamorous days of the Yankees, I wanted to set it right there, in that 50’s sort of style.
(photo via David C. Woolard)
Fans have likely seen photos of Babe Ruth wearing his fur coat, and the piece certainly stood out on stage. Why did you decide to include it and how did you make it authentic?
I haven’t seen any photos of him in that specific raccoon coat. I’ve seen him in several fur coats and I thought that was a great entrance. And I think that Eric Simonson who wrote the play and is directing the play, he had that idea as well, trying to give him those specific touches that would help nail the character of Babe or Mickey or anywhere we could get something that was just a little bit more towards them. Idiosyncratic moments like Mickey Mantle rolling up his shirt sleeve, things like that, that would just help us get a little flavor and a little personality into the uniforms. And where they wear their undershirts, pushing them up further or longer, how high they’re wearing their pants, what sort of leg they’re showing, little details like that.
Sports fans and Yankee fans in particular are extremely loyal and dedicated supporters of their team. Several audience members were dressed in Yankees apparel when I saw the show. Does that add a bit more pressure than usual in developing the costume designs and characters, knowing the audience is that much more passionate about it?
Oh yes, especially Derek Jeter. We were trying to find the Air Jordan cleats that Derek Jeter has been wearing and it took us awhile to find vintage ones in his size. It was like hunting needles in a haystack to find some of this vintage stuff, because Nike couldn’t re-create those at this point. So I had him in a shoe that wasn’t Nike and I painted it down and what not, but people caught it. And they said oh, that’s the wrong shoe. I said we don’t have the right shoe, it’s coming in next week, and when we move it to Broadway it’ll be fine don’t worry. But they caught it.
I will say that Derek Jeter is the one that everyone really nails on because everyone knows him and has seen him recently. It’s not like the other guys who are kind of filtered in our mind, the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, it’s a memory.
It’s been great working with the actors because they’ve all been really into these guys and they’ve been doing all of their research as well, looking at video clips of how the guys would move and things like that, which is really helpful to me, to have the actors so invested. It’s great to have that in fittings. We padded some of the guys in different areas, like padded some shoulders, padded some legs, padded some stomachs on a couple people, just so they’re different, and that was all great fun.
(photos via David C. Woolard)