Artistic designers recreate 1940s burlesque for 74th annual Dolphin Show

Peter Kotecki, Development and Recruitment Editor


Video by Bailey Williams/Daily Senior Staffer

In “Gypsy,” the 74th Annual Dolphin Show, more than 150 Northwestern students work together to show the protagonist’s transformation from a 1920s vaudeville performer to a 1940s burlesque star.

The 1959 musical “Gypsy” follows the protagonist Gypsy Rose Lee, starting in her childhood days as Rose Louise Hovick. As Louise and her sister June perform with Mama Rose around the country to make their vaudeville act popular, June decides to leave her mother. With June gone, Mama Rose focuses on Louise’s fame, but Louise breaks free from her mother’s stifling guidance by entering into the world of burlesque dancing.

The artistic producer, Brandon Nadig, said he wanted to produce a more traditional musical this year, as such shows give more opportunities for reinterpretation and the creation of a grander design.

“(With older musicals), there is not a recent production in everyone’s heads,” the Communication senior said. “There are not as many expectations with what it has to be.”

Costume designer Veronica Johnson said she paid close attention to character development over the course of the musical and used the costumes to reflect it, particularly that of Gypsy Rose Lee.

“It’s about how one woman transforms from a reluctant performer to a very confident star,” the Communication senior said.

Johnson said she enjoyed doing extensive research on the life of Gypsy Lee to help with the creation of burlesque costumes for the show. She worked on many elaborate designs, including a costume that lights up and bras with fruit glued on them.

She added that one challenge in her design work, however, was ensuring that the ensemble costumes look the same within each group performance.

“I found the embellishing to be a lot of fun,” Johnson said. “You also have to make sure that the actresses are comfortable and they show however much skin they want to show.”

Communication sophomore Keebler Straz similarly showed the transformation of characters as they grow up and experience a coming of age, but with hair and makeup instead of with costumes, she said.

Straz said that with such a broad range of ages and professions, she could delve into the time period and play up the unique characteristics of each character.

With the character Mama Rose, Straz specifically focuses on manipulating her hair to show an emotional transformation throughout the show.

At first, Mama Rose’s sense of control is reflected in her tightly controlled hair. As the overbearing stage mother loses control throughout the show, her hair becomes bigger and frizzier, Straz said.

Parallels to college life drew Director Aaron Simon Gross to “Gypsy” in the first place.

Mama Rose’s relationship with her daughter changes as Louise grows up. Similarly, Gross has seen his relationship with his own parents change as he goes through college.

“Something that I was really drawn to in it, as a college student particularly, is that it’s very much a story about … the moment when we see our parents as people for the first time,” the Communication senior said. “And much more directly, who we become when we leave them for the first time.”

Nadig also said he found parallels between Gypsy Rose Lee and his experience in college. He sees the show as an exploration of identity, and how people can forge their own identities.

“A lot of us coming to college are for the first time leaving a family,” he said. “Suddenly, you have more freedom to explore and to figure out who you are.”

Gross said one of the most exciting aspects of working on “Gypsy” has been the size of the show’s team. He said “Gypsy” is a play that exists on a large scale as an emotional and operatic musical that connects well with college students.

“The text of the play itself is just really, really strong,” he said. “It gives the designers a lot to play off of, because it conjures these really specific worlds, and how we convey the progression from one to the other.”

The Dolphin Show opens Jan. 22 in Cahn Auditorium.

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