Friday, November 18, 2022

Behind the Scenes at Asolo Rep with Costume Designer Alejo Vietti

Costume for Kit Kat Club dancer
Life is a cabaret, old chum. So you'd better dress the part. For Asolo Rep's production of "Cabaret," the Theatre turned to Alejo Vietti to make sure the characters did just that. I had a chance to hear from Vietti and costume shop manager David Covach about how it all came together. With 60+ costumes required, it was a gargantuan task. Having already seen the show, I'm happy to report that the team's hard work paid off. 

Vietti is a native Argentinian who went to New York with his family for a vacation and didn't get on the plane back home. He said he had no plan, no papers and didn't know a single person. What he did know was that his career would be launched there. His credits include everything from Broadway shows like "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" and "Holiday Inn" to productions for Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Radio City Rockettes and -- wait for it -- Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. His work has aptly been seen previously at Asolo Rep in the 2010 production of "Barnum." 

Costume for Emcee
Vietti explained that for him, costume design is not about beauty. Instead, it should present the symbiotic vision of the director and the designers. Each costume must reflect the character being portrayed and help advance the story. For "Cabaret," the consensus was that the feel of the costumes should be vaudeville/circus costumes from the 1920s. 

Once the concept had been agreed, Vietti created sketches of the costumes and sent them to Covach. They then talked about each piece. How does it fit into the narrative? How much can we buy versus build in-house? Is a particular fabric required?  

Covach called this costume for the Emcee the "Frankenstein" of the show since it was pieced together from so many places. When Covach showed Vietti some black and white striped bicycle shorts that could be purchased, Vietti said, "I think the audience would be confused by that choice." (He handily calls on the audience's perspective when he nixes an idea.) So Covach ended up buying fabric and creating the shorts (with some spanx underneath for good measure). Men's socks don't come in sheer fabric so women's socks were repurposed. The sleeves are made from fishnet stockings. Frankenstein indeed.  

Vietti costume drawings for Sally Bowles and the Emcee
Dressing the orchestra was a unique challenge for the Asolo Rep production of "Cabaret." Instead of sitting in the orchestra pit, the musicians are onstage in full view of the audience. While Vietti provided Covach with sketches of the costumes for each actor in the show, his only guidance concerning the musicians was that they should look right at home in the Kit Kat Club. Hmm. Covach's first thought was to dress them similarly to the dancers; i.e., not wearing very much. Once he saw the somewhat burly men slated to provide the musical accompaniment, that idea went out the window. And so he pivoted to 1930s style tuxes. To add to the challenge, of the eight original band members, only three remained in the production come opening night. 

Covach and Vietti with "the" dress
The costume that caused the most stress was the Klimt-esque dress for Sally Bowles shown in the drawing above and this picture. It was going to be so simple. Covach saw a dress online that was pricey ($800) but in the budget. He got Iris Beaumier's measurements and sent them off with the order. No problem -- except that the dress wouldn't be available until February, well after the musical had not only opened but closed. What to do? 

The team outsourced production of the costume to a dressmaker in India. (To make it in the US would have been cost prohibitive.) Covach and Vietti worked with the creator via email and WhatsApp every step of the way. It's handmade from tiny glass beads and weighs approximately 20 pounds. The dress shimmered all the way up to the mezzanine where I was seated. One audience member asked what happens if Beaumier is out sick for a show. Would the dress fit her understudy? "That's not going to happen," Vietti said with a confident smile (and a wish and a prayer). The guys neglected to tell us how much the costume ended up setting the design budget back. 

"Cabaret" can be seen at Asolo Rep through the end of the year. If you have time between holiday gatherings, catch a performance. For more information, click here

1 comment:

  1. I love your behind the scenes coverage! Wish I could see the show.


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