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30 Seconds With… William Ivey Long

In this weekly featureWCBS culture critic Jim Taylor shares 30 seconds with the theatre stars and upstarts of NYC. From Broadway to Off-off, Jim tracks down the talent and gets them to spill just enough for our collectively shortened attention spans.

Remember the yellow dress in Contact? If you’re a theatre fan, you definitely do. Multiple Tony Award-winning costume designer William Ivey Long is the man responsible for that iconic dress, and it’s now on the wall of his underground design studio in the Village — along with about a thousand images that all became part of the costuming for Cinderella.

William Ivey Long: What you can see around you in my studio is walls covered with reference pictures. Many not-related-at-all images. In each of our Cinderella worlds there are trees everywhere. We are in a forest, so, the butterflies, moth, praying mantis, which is the inspiration for the costume of the evil stepmother — she eats her husband and all that. Images like this are just there to show that nature is there. And all the behavioral traits have a color associated to them. What is goodness in light and what is truth and beauty.

Jim Taylor: Quite honestly your costumes steal the show. Especially the mind-blowing costume changes that happen right before our eyes.

WIL: Cinderella has three transformations and she does every one of them herself. There is no smoke, no mirrors, and there are no black-outs.

JT: So then, how do you accomplish this magic?

WIL: A long time ago I designed Siegfried and Roy’s show in Las Vegas and we worked on it for a year, and we updated it and improved it. And I learned a few things. What I learned was not a trick but an attitude — magic is all around you. And it must be done right before your eyes.

JT: And what’s next for the busiest costume designer on Broadway?

WIL: In the film Snow White and the Huntsman when Charlize Theron turns into blackbirds, I wish I could do that. I’m doing Big Fish next, the Tim Burton film, as a musical, starring Norbert Leo Butz. We have a moment when the young boys visit the witch in the swamp. I’ve got these images of fireflies and blackbirds. Stay tuned. Give me a minute.

Cinderella is live on Broadway now. Surprisingly, this is actually the fist time this Rogers and Hammerstein version has played the Great White Way; earlier incarnations were for television. The very modern book is by the ever-clever Douglas Carter Beane.