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NY Public Library's Archives Unit Specialist Diana Bertolini on the Dodger Costume Bibles

BroadwayWorld.com continues our exclusive content series, in collaboration with The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, which delves into the library's unparalleled archives, and resources. Below, check out a piece by Diana Bertolini, Archives Unit Specialist for The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts on the Dodger Costume Bibles and Titanic:

The original production of a Broadway musical is performed a few hundred, or at most a few thousand times, and then it's over. It leaves behind a cast album, some photographs, some scripts, and some designs. The Billy Rose Theatre Division of The New York Public Library collects the things that are left behind when the performance is over. Sometimes you look at these leftovers and have little sense of the living breathing show that made them. But sometimes, they breathe life back into these long-ago shows, as the Dodger Costume Bibles did for me with the musical Titanic.

The Dodger Costume Bibles document the work of costume designers and assistants working on plays and musicals produced by Dodger Theatricals. Costume bibles generally contain design drawings, fabric swatches, measurements for the actors in the show, and photographs of the costumes on actors and on dummies. They provide a beautiful insight into the visual design of these productions, and are all worth looking at, but the set of bibles that intrigued me the most was from Maury Yeston and Peter Stone's 1997 musical, Titanic.

The costume bibles for Titanic go beyond the standard, not only for the stunning beauty of the Edwardian costumes, but for the research the costume designers put into the real-life Titanic passengers and crew-members who appear as characters in the musical. I'll take my favorite character, the 2nd wireless operator Harold Bride, as an example. The file begins with a brief biography of the real life Bride, and a photocopy of a photograph of him (he survived the sinking and sold his story to the New York Times). Then there's a drawing of the costume design, based on Bride's actual uniform, and a swatch of the fabric that would be used to construct it. Finally, there is a series of photographs of Martin Moran, the actor who played Bride on Broadway, in his costume, posed from various angles.

Costume plots show the trajectory of each actor, laying out clearly what they wear in each scene. From the cast album of Titanic, I would never have known that the featured cast members all doubled as ensemble members in the other passenger classes. So even though Theresa McCarthy's main role was Kate Murphey, an Irish immigrant in a plain black dress, she also got to be decked out as a First Class Passenger in an exquisite orange and white evening gown!

And not only the costumes are documented here; there's also a Shoe Bible! And the Hair Bible shows every wig that was used in the show, and has photographs and instructions on how each wig was to be set with curlers after each performance to recreate the hairstyles of the period. I never got to see Titanic on Broadway, but I almost feel that I have, thanks to these beautiful costume bibles, which are a testament to the thoroughness and artistry of Costume Designer Stewart Laing (who won a Tony Award for his Scenic Design of Titanic), Associate Costume Designer Scott Traugott, and Wig Designer Ray Marston.


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