Putting On Pinstripes - Costume Design for Broadway's Bronx Bombers

By Joe Kucharski - December 12, 2013

Ruth. Berra. Mantle. DiMaggio. Gehrig. Jeter. The New York Yankees have never had a shortage of star players, or controversy. Bronx Bombers is a new American play from the team behind Broadway's Lombardi that follows beloved icon Yogi Berra and his wife Carmen through a century of the team's trials and triumphs, bringing generations of Yankee greats together on one stage.

Costume designer David C. Woolard helps bring these wonderful historic figures to life on stage. Woolard is that rare theatre designer that has built an incredibly successfully career without being pigeonholed into one style or genre. His work runs the gamut from Broadway to major regional theatres, including modern and historic plays, dance, large-scale musicals, as well as opera. I recently had the opportunity to talk with him about his work on Bronx Bombers.

 

Bronx Bombers. Costume Designer David C. Woolard.

 

Tyranny of Style: What was the starting point for your research and inspiration for this production?

 

David C. Woolard: As always the first thing was to read the script. That let's me know how the writer is seeing the play, sometimes as a farce sometimes very realistic, as well as which aspects of the characters I really need to focus on and in "Bronx Bombers" it was the authenticity of the characters that was and is important since they are all real life people - Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio Yogi Berra. etc. 

Bronx Bombers. Costume Designer David C. Woolard.

 

When we first meet the characters it is in 1977, right after Billy Martin has thrown Reggie Jackson out of the game. We see Thurman Munson disheveled, probably in yesterdays clothing, and Reggie Jackson in his hip 1977 suit, as well as Billy Martin in his western wear which it seems he fell in love with when he was in Texas. I wanted to make sure the audience knew that Reggie felt that he was the king but not make it define the scene. So we made him a short maroon jacket to show off his body a bit more and Cuban heels to help make him lean forward. Of course the hair is very important for these characters as well. Paul Huntley did some wonderful wigs that were very transformative. Again, research was done looking at as many photos of the characters as possible.

 

Bronx Bombers. Costume Designer David C. Woolard.

 

T/S: Bronx Bombers is being developed in collaboration with Major League Baseball and the New York Yankees. Did this partnership have any impact on the research or design process?

 

DCW: Researching the show was one of my favorite things I really love finding out new things about different periods or people. Uniforms are so specific, kind of like math. I will say that Daniel Chanelli' s blog YankeesUniformDatabase.Blogspot.com was a real help. He has each year listed as to the particulars of the uniform. The people who made the older uniforms for the show, Ebbets Field Flannels, were also a great help as they have a lot of the information at their factory in Seattle. They were able to help me with the details of each year as well so that Lou Gehrig's 1939 uniform has a raglan sleeve - that was something I guess the Yankees were trying that year. They went back to set in sleeves for a while and then raglan again when they changed in 1972 to polyester. MLB made the uniform for Reggie Jackson and Derek Jeter, as their uniforms are the polyester version, which is similar to the material used today. Sanitaries (the white calf socks), stirrups and belts mostly came from Ebbets Field Flannels. The undershirts were found online at several retailers. Babe Ruth's is plain white - the actual reproduction shirt was very heavy. Luckily, I was able to find another option that was much lighter, but had the same button collar style. Most of the other guys are in the classic white t-shirt with the 3/4 navy sleeves. Of course Derek Jeter is in a Nike logo shirt as that is what he wears.

 

 

Bronx Bombers. Costume Designer David C. Woolard.

 

T/S: You mentioned a great blog as a resource. How has technology changed the way you research for costume design?

 

DCW: I designed the revival of Tommy at Stratford this past spring after having designed it on Broadway in ’93. Twenty years ago there was no Internet. Researching British uniforms required tons of legwork. Now you can find that same information in one day online. But I do still like going to a place and touching a garment – the hand and flow of a vintage garment is great. Looking just at an image, you don’t get to know that.

 

T/S: Can you tell us a little about the process of designing costumes for an original play?

 

DCW: For a new play and for a revival the starting point is always the same with the script, but with a new script there are usually changes every day in rehearsal that can affect costumes, and also in previews before the show has opened. Bronx Bombers went through a number of script changes and is going through them now, as we get ready for Broadway. When we were doing the show at Primary Stages, during the curtain call we had everyone in their last costume, which meant that most everyone was in a uniform except Carmen Berra and Sheldon Birket, the reporter. That actor plays Billy Martin as well in the first scene so I suggested that we change him into Billy Martin in uniform, something we didn't have yet and it made a great statement at the end as everyone is in pinstripes.

 

 

Bronx Bombers. Costume Designer David C. Woolard.

 

T/S: Can you tell us a little about the process of designing costumes for a production that moves from Off-Broadway to Broadway?

 

DCW: When we started on this show we knew we were moving, so many things were prepared for that. I had a bit more of a budget than would normally be the case for an Off Broadway show and was able to get closer to what I wanted the show to be for Broadway. Of course there are a few changes we are making - we will have new actors playing Yogi Berra and Carmen Berra, Peter Scolari and Tracy Shayne. The main change we are doing is trying to make the look of Carmen a bit more sexy and sophisticated. Before she had a velour navy robe, now it is silk piped in an aqua paisley and the red dress that she wears in the dream scene was 3/4 sleeve and now is just shoulder straps.

 

Bronx Bombers. Costume Designer David C. Woolard.

 

You can see David’s work live on Broadway in First Date, starring Zachary Levi, through January 5, 2014 and beginning January 10, 2014 in Bronx Bombers at Circle in the Square Theatre (235 West 50th Street). Official opening - February 6, 2014.

 

For more information visit www.BronxBombersPlay.com