“I think the hardest thing in the world to do is a musical and I have many fellow designers who agree with that. It is the hardest art form to pull off.” – Judith Dolan
Introduction: This is our story rich and rare!
As you see from this picture above, what is a Tony Award, a souvenir program from the 1997 revival of Candide and a Chia-Plant of Donald Trump all doing on a desk? Well, I shall tell you and I promise it will all make sense in the end!
A couple of weeks ago, I had the great privilege to interview one of the great costume designers of the American stage, Ms. Judith Dolan. In this interview, I had the pleasure to discuss her Tony Award winning approach to designing the costume for Hal Prince’s production of Candide. I got to ask her several questions about the many different lives of Candide from the New York City Opera’s multiple productions since 1982 as well as the 1997 Broadway production in addition to all the fun stories and anecdotes that come with it! Furthermore, Ms. Dolan talks a great deal about her amazing collaboration to the legendary director/producer, Harold Prince. So let’s take a peek behind the curtain to see how these stunning costumes came to be and the creative process behind the costume’s creation.
How We Met: Oh! Is it true?! Is it you?!
In February, I was attending a cabaret in Hillcrest to see Linda Lavin and Billy Strich perform at Martini’s Above Fourth. At the end of the cabaret when I went up to meet Ms. Lavin, I asked her to sign my It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman vinyl (Lavin, a member of the original Broadway cast, sang the now hit tune from the show “You’ve Got Possibilities”) and a picture of her in the role of The Old Lady from New York City Opera’s production of Candide. When she graciously signed the Candide photo, she informed me that the woman who made these costumes for that show was in the house that night! After I thanked Ms. Lavin, I was able to spot Ms. Dolan, and asked her if she indeed was THE Judith Dolan and she was! She was very indulgent with me and allowed me to tell her how greatly I admired her work. I told her that Candide is one of my all time favorite musicals and that the New York City Opera version of the show was my favorite incarnation of the show. Furthermore, what made that production my favorite out of all of the incarnations of Candide was the visual design of that production, both set and costumes. After about ten minutes of me babbling about her praises, she kindly allowed me to email her to meet up again during her office hours at UCSD, the campus where she currently serves as a professor of Directing and Design/Costumes. After an email or two later, I was able to meet with her on the UCSD campus to become better acquainted with her.
Who Judith is: That paragon of human virtue!
What is written below is Judith’s official bio from the UCSD website to help give you an idea of all of her wonderful accomplishments!
“JUDITH DOLAN has designed costumes for several productions for director Harold Prince including Candide for which she received a 1997 Tony Award. Another collaboration with Mr. Prince, the musical The Petrified Prince, earned her the Lucille Lortelle Award and a 1995 Drama Desk nomination. Other theatrical credits include costumes for Andrei Serban’s production of The Miser for the American Repertory Theatre, Christholf Von Dohnanyi’s interpretation of The Magic Flute for The Cleveland Orchestra, Idomeneo for Wolf Trap Opera and the original Broadway production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Her designs have been seen in numerous companies in the U.S. and abroad including Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, Theatre Clwyd in Wales, The Old Vic, The Kennedy Center, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington D.C., The Goodman Theatre, The Alley Theater, The Mark Taper Forum, Hartford Stage, New York City Opera and the Houston Grand Opera. Recent Broadway work includes the award-winning musical Parade and Hollywood Arms by Carol Burnett and Carrie Hamilton. In 2007, she designed costumes for LoveMusik, the story of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, directed by Hal Prince, starring Donna Murphy and Michael Ceveris, for which she received Outer Critics and Drama Desk nominations for Best Costume Design. Other recent design credits include sets and costumes for Gombrowicz’s Meditations on Virginity for the International Theatre Festival “Theater Confrontations”in Poland and Travesties directed by Gregory Boyd for the Long Wharf Theater. She has directed and workshopped new plays for The Director’s Company in New York City, where she is currently developing a new music/theater piece, Stoker, with composer Joe Jackson. In 2014, the New York City League of Professional Theatre Women awarded her the Ruth Morley Design Award for her career achievements and leadership in design. Judith Dolan has an MFA in Costume Design and a PhD in Design and Directing/Theatre History and Aesthetic Theory from Stanford University.”
Check out Judith’s work in action here from Candide, Parade, LoveMusik and Joesph…!
The History of Candide: Let us review lesson eleven!
Candide is a large-scale operetta by composer Leonard Bernstein based on the satirical 1759 novella of the same name by Voltaire, a French philosopher during the Enlightenment era. Voltaire wrote his satire in response to the tragedies of the world at his time and to debunk his fellow philosophers beliefs on optisium. When Candide came out, the depiction of religious figures, political sedition, greed, rape, etc. made the novella banned for several years. Since its publication, it has become a standard of literature and is taught in many schools throughout the world.
The operetta in 1957 was written by Bernstein and playwright Lillian Helman in response to the McCarthy-Army hearings and drew a dramatic parallel to the Hearing with the novella’s section on the Auto Da Fe (in which the Spanish Inquisition flogged, hanged and burned heretics in God’s holy name). Although many critics consider Candide to be Bernstein’s best score next to West Side Story, the show was a flop and ran only two months when it originally opened in New York.
Despite its lackluster run, the show’s cast album became popular and helped the show be occasionally produced as a concert throughout the 1960s in various locations. Around 1973, The Chelsea Theatre Center of Brooklyn persuaded the great producer/director Harold Prince to revive Candide with a new libretto to the existing score. A new libretto was created by Hugh Wheeler and new lyrics were added by Stephen Sondheim (both gentlemen had recently opened A Little Night Music with Prince). This version of Candide sold out it’s month long run, and it’s popularity led it to transferring to Broadway where it ran for almost two years.
In 1982, the New York City Opera asked Prince to create an opera house version of the show based on the Chelsea Version. This production of Candide is in which Judith Dolan created and designed her costumes for the show. This version was also a great success and would later become the staple of the company’s repertoire, later being revived several times. The 1982 production was recorded for Great Performances by PBS.
In 1988, Leonard Bernstein with help from John Manceri created his final version of the score and a new version of the show premiered in Glasgow at Scottish Opera.
In 1997, a revival of Candide opened at the Gershwin Theater on Broadway and was based on the New York City Opera production. It was produced by Garth Dubinsky and highly featured Andrea Martin as The Old Lady. At the 1997 Tony Awards, Judith Dolan won for Best Costume Design for Candide.
In 1999, the Royal National Theater in London constructed their version, a complete book to stage adaptation with a majority of the lines of the script coming straight out of the novella.
In 2004, the New York Philharmonic put on a concert version of Candide, conducted by Marin Alsop and starred Kristen Chenoweth as Cunegonde and Patti Lupone as the Old Lady. This concert was recorded for Great Performances by PBS.
In 2006, Théâtre du Châtelet presented their version, having Candide set in America during the last quarter of the 20th century. In this production, Cuengonde is Marylin Monore, Candide is a soldier for the Korean War, and featured dancing KKK members during the “Auto Da Fe” sequence.
In 2017 and 2018, several opera and theater companies produced Candide as part of Leonard Bernstein’s Centennial Celebration. One of those productions was New York City Opera’s remounting of Candide (which I happened to see).
The Basic Plot of Candide: I have been asked to tell you about Westphalia…
While Bernstein’s Candide has many different versions with some versions completely faithful to Voltaire while others take artistic liberties, this is the basic generic plot for all the versions.
Candide tells the story of the young youth of the title in his misadventures and tribulations throughout the globe. In the beginning of the story, Candide as well as his other classmates, the beautiful Cunegonde, the arrogant Maximilian and the resourceful maid Paquette, are taught by their tutor, Dr. Pangloss that “since this is only possible world it follows that this is the best of all possible worlds. Ergo, since this is the best of all possible worlds, it follows that everything that happens in this world is for the best”. With this optimistic knowledge ingrained in his brain, Candide travels around the world to find happiness with Cunegonde. However, more misfortune then opportunity lands in lap of Candide such as the witnessing a deathly earthquake in Lisbon, being flogged by the Auto Da Fe, being forced to serve in the Bulgarian Army, watching his love become defiled by powerful men in addition to repeatedly being taken advantage of and swindled. On his journey, he also encounters new characters such as; Cunegonde’s Duena, The Old Lady, who once was a wealthy princess who was raped, has had one of her buttock’s eaten and then forced to become a serving maid but still looks forward to life, Cacambo who travels with Candide to El Dorado only to find absolute happiness in actually very boring and Martin, a pessimist who believes “Everything happens for the WORST, in this worst of all possible worlds” (Martin and Cacambo are not featured in the Hal Prince production of the show). In the end, Candide realises that life is neither pure nor bad, life is unbalanced, life is life. Candide and Cugendonde are married and fulfill man’s natural function: work God’s earth with no regret for yesturday or hope for tomorrow.
Notes on Judith’s Costume Design for Candide: My wardrobe is expensive as the devil!
What is written below are notes Judith wrote about her approach to Candide’s costume design taken directly from the 1997 Broadway Souvenir Program:
“Candide-the music, the story, the characters-charms. One of the most important issues for me was how to convey the charm without losing the satiric edge and wit of Voltaire’s work. What was somewhat unnerving, as I found myself more and more engaged by the piece, was that the satire felt so fresh and current. The contemporary influence of artists such as Bernstein, Sondheim, Wilbur, Wheeler and others was no doubt a part of this, but this “collaboration” with Voltaire that spanned two centuries demanded a fresh approach. The circus is a particularly rich visual metaphor which crosses national boundaries and traverses time…elements that are useful for this production of Candide.
My historical research encompassed travelling shows of all kinds and music hall conventions of the early part of this century, as well as theatrical presentations of the Inquisition and the carnival atmosphere surrounding the French Revolution. Within the costume designs, 19th-century acrobats co-exist with infamous political authorities. Every character in Candide lives a kind of simultaneous life within the story and within “Dr. Voltaire’s” show: Cunegonde is both the heroine of the story and the rising young female star of the troupe; the Old Lady exists as a catalyst to the action and as the experienced character actress who knows how to hold the audience in the palms of her hands; Don Issachar and the Grand Inquisitor blur the lines between public figures and old-time vaudevillian comedy teams. Throughout, it is the figure of Voltaire who weaves the story together as author, actor and impresario.
I found the energy of musical theater actors demand new approaches than that of opera singers. These designs are brighter in color and more straightforward. They are attuned to the individual presence of each performer’s personality.
Ultimately, I hope that the costumes for Candide convey some of the joy of the production without losing it’s critical edge.”
The Q&A: You are perhaps wondering perhaps why I’m so attired!?
On the day I was able to meet with Ms. Dolan , she was assisting her students with their eye popping designs for an opera coming up. When entering her office she had a gigantic bookshelf filled with all kinds of cool inspirational knick knacks. On the far end of the office is a quaint table with posters of some of the shows she worked on to the left, hanging on the wall. After I complimented her about her beautiful office then discussed about her position on the UCSD and the love she has for her fellow students, I began to ask her my questions.
Colden Lamb: How did you acquire the job for Candide in 1982?
Judith Dolan: I got that job through Hal Prince. I was designing a soap opera at the time, that job was ending and I was moving on. I was applying for more theater work by sending out letters to producers and directors through Backstage. I didn’t have any contact at all and it was Hal Prince who got back to me. At first, I didn’t know if I should apply to Hal Prince, ya know, he’s too big, who am I? However, it was the Prince Office who got back to me, nobody else did. They asked me if I would be interested in an internship and I said yes, not having a clue what it was! And it was out of those first interviews, I got to do three shows, one right after the other and one of those shows was Candide for New York City Opera in the early 80’s.
The other two shows were Merrily We Roll Along and an opera called Willie Stark with Houston Grand Opera which was the first show I did with Hal. Willie Stark was also one of those cases in which I was sitting there at the first dress rehearsal at Houston Grand Opera, and this is true, when I realized it was my first opera I’ve ever seen in my life! I had a very limited experience in theater, I came from a family of steel workers, so I saw an occasional movie but that was about it! So I have no idea how I ended up in the theater but Willie Stark was my first opera (but I didn’t tell Hal Prince that)!
CL: Did you have any connections to the 1973 Chelsea Version of Candide?
JD: No, that was Eugene and Franne Lee, a husband and wife costume design team.
CL: Did you discuss or research costume designers who did previous productions of Candide?
JD: No, Hal Prince didn’t really give me anything in regards to past designers because research was not that accessible back then when you think about it. I remember when I was working on another piece (I can’t remember what the piece was) with Hal and he told me to go see the video of Company that’s at the New York Public Library. When I went to see it, the film was really grainy and bad! Back in those days, we didn’t even have color xerox. I know it sounds like ancient history but it wasn’t that easy to do research.
Also, I try not to be influenced by other designers on productions, especially those that might be called seminnal. It’s not that I don’t respect it, it’s just that it doesn’t help me create something original.
CL: You stated that your costumes for Candide were based upon late 19th century carnival, circus, freak and burlesque shows. Was that concept your idea or director Hal Prince’s idea or both?
JD: I don’t remember, and I’m trying to avaid it. Hal for the New York City Opera production in 1982 wanted it to look like a down and out traveling freak show. So the colors and banners were all green and grey, a rustic and dark take on it. Then when it went to Broadway, which was a big stage, Clarke Dunham, the set designer for both NYCO and Broadway, and I used bolder colors making the Broadway production become more circusy by default due to the gigantic Broadway scale. And when I saw the scale that Clarke Dunham was doing, I knew that my funky little down and out “mummers” from 1982 would not be seen on the stage. I had to pull out my costumes in order to compete with the beautiful, but complicated, scenic design with a lot of scenic painting and detail. I knew I had to go bolder and stronger in color range with my designs for Broadway. The most recent production with NYCO that I did with Hal, he wanted to bring back the 1982 color palette of darker colors. I re-design everything to pull it down and Hal was very happy with that.
CL: Why didn’t you design the costumes based on the time period the novella came out, the 18th century? Why no powdered wigs, giant Marie Antoinette hoop skirts or colonial apparel?
JD: Well they did that before evidently and it failed in 1956. However, that wasn’t Hal’s concept. He told me that he wanted to look like a school boy’s prank, so it had to look a little more light-hearted and flippid. In order to achieve that and to capture Volitaire’s comic satire, because it is a dark comedy, I made it an agenda for myself to offend every single ethnicity, person and place I could think of. It was equal opportunity satire and I would try all sorts of stuff. Once you do that and when everyone becomes a target, you can enter into the festivity of the satire wholeheartedly. I think the biggest compliment I got was on opening night of Candide on Broadway and somebody saw me at the opening night party to say, “Those costumes were really beautiful”. Mike Wallace was walking by, he turned around and said “Yeah and they were smart too”. The smartness of my designs were really important to me.
CL: Did Bernstein ever come to see the 1982 production?
JD: He did! I remember him being at one of the rehearsal halls. However, he was not invited to the rehearsal rooms on a regular basis because he was the composer and Hal needed to direct in order to create his vision of Bernstein’s music. And that’s true by and large, a lot of composers don’t come in. However, Bernstein wasn’t invited but he was there at the opening night party! They were still playing around with Candide’s text but everything represented in ‘82 had some flexibility. That flexibility in ‘82 also had to do with not having a very large budget, we were under the gun! On opening night in ‘82 I was stitching aprons for the final scene!
Hal Prince came to the costume shop and asked, “What are you doing?!”
I said, “I’m sewing! You said you wanted white aprons!”
He started laughing stating “Well, you wouldn’t see Florence Klotz stitching!”
I said, “Well do ya wanna see your aprons?!” We had a great kind of banter back and forth with it but yea, I have stitched to get the show up.
In ‘82, I wanted everything to look like it came out of an old opera trunk. That was part of the ability to make it happen because NYCO had a lot of Wagnerian helmets and crazy tunics which I decided to use for the Westphalia battle sequence. I embraced the limitation and found joy in it. When we recently remounted the show in 2017, we had to re-make the costumes all over again because the costumes were burned in a warehouse fire. It was really sad because there were some really beautiful old archaic opera treasures.
CL: What happens to your costumes when your shows close or are all done?
JD: Sometimes, it is put in storage. I believe my costumes for Candide are now with the Goodspeed Opera House.
CL: The 1997 production of Candide added acrobats and stunt artists doing flips and special tricks throughout the show (the NYCO productions did not have acrobats). Did you have to make those costumes in ‘97 revolve around the flexibility of the performers or was everything still basically the same?
JD: The ensemble costumes of the show were all designed in each production specifically for the dancers. For instance, the ensemble women’s clothes were all built as ballet costumes. Hidden in the seams of their costumes were elastics so they could pull up and pull down. They were all hand dyed silk satins to get that soft patina, but they were built for a lot of heavy construction so they could take abuse. When I had acrobats in ‘97, I had to get special shoes in and I had to do a couple of other special things. For the ensemble men’s costumes, the shirt’s were knit, things would stretch and move, it was all built to be danced in.
CL: Why didn’t the 1997 version of the show do successfully? My assumption is because no one asked for it. Drubinsky wanted another Show Boat. There was no crashing chandelier or sinking Titanic. Broadway was getting sick of revivals. Would you agree or disagree? Why do you think it wasn’t a hit and closed after 100 performances?
JD: I have often wondered why too, it has so many good things in it and about it. I personally think it was in the wrong theater space, it was too big. It lost it’s joy and intimacy. It was a big theater and to compensate you had to use big gestures and for something that’s quirky it’s harder, it lost it’s quirkiness.
CL: Was the Gershwin bigger than the house that New York City Opera was in?
JD: Yea, it was huge and we all knew it too. It would have been better in a smaller theater. (Looking at a picture from the 1997 Souvenir Program) I mean, look at the stage, it’s caverness! I also think that when the show went to Broadway, the quirky costumes got lost on the big stage, you couldn’t really appreciate their goofiness. Ya know, who knows? I think the hardest thing in the world to do is a musical and I have many fellow designers who agree with that. It is the hardest art form to pull off. I think it’s harder than opera.
CL: Well, I guess with opera, you can’t go wrong going bigger and more opulent for operas.
JD: With opera, you can go big or go home or there is an expectation or certain amount of tradition. But, to do a new musical or a new approach to a musical is really tough. I’m on the Tony nominating committee, this is my third and final year doing it. It has been really rewarding because I get to see every single show on Broadway. I have to go into the final month and see seventeen shows, sometimes I see six shows back to back, matinees, evenings, just to see them all! My point is that I have such respect for anyone pulling off a good musical cuz it’s really tough.
CL: Do you have a favorite costume from the show that you really like?
JD: No, I can’t say I do, I love them all, they’re my children!
CL: My favorite costumes you did for the show are those created for the “Auto Da Fe” sequence. I love the color scheme you used for this section, blacks and purples with highlights of light blues and reds. Why did you choose to have the ensemble in Masquerade in Venice outfits?
JD: Oh, just because I wanted it to be a big party. Period authenticity was not as important.
CL: In the “Auto Da Fe” sequence, who are the authoritative men with LISBON sashes across their uniform?
JD: I call them the legionnaires. A little masonicic.
CL: Those are such fun outfits! Also in the Cartenaya, Colbumia Sequence there’s a man with a sash across his costume as well!
JD: You know so much! Yea, there is a sash for the Slave Captain’s assistant and I put in Spanish, AYUDA which means “aid”. I’m not even sure if that’s even correct Spanish but I would just do silly things like that.
CL: Another great costume you created for the “Auto Da Fe” sequence was The Lady of Oporto (The Lady of Oporto is a local Madonna).
JD: Yea, she was a Madonna, I called it The Infant of Prauge look. I added a globe on the top of her head, with gold and giant hoop skirt. I also added a dancing Jesus puppet to that costume. I wanted to pay tribute to the religious iconography as well as make her as big as possible. My sister has the sketch rendition I did for The Lady of Opoto because she was crippled laughing form that costume. I love that costume, too.
CL: I really missed seeing that costume for the 2017 NYCO production because that little section with The Lady of Oporto was cut.
JD: Another thing that got changed in the last production that I missed and that Hal admitted he missed too were the Old Dons original costumes for the “Easily Assimilated” number. I originally had them in long red underwear and really bad beards. I think the use of long underwear in reds and blacks was wonderful to bring out the cheapness and fun of the characters in order to stereotype old Mexican men. It all goes back to offending everybody and adding in jokes all over the place.
CL: At NYCO in 2017 the Dons didn’t have the elboarte sombreros like your previous productions and they were all in greys and greens.
JD: Yea, Hal didn’t want the red underwear. When we opened in 2017, Hal was perplexed. He said it didn’t work this time and I felt like saying “Well…then listen to your designer”! The red underwear told the audience that these were old men with droopy drawers, it didn’t have the same effect with the grey long-johns.
CL: I read in Hal Prince’s book, Sense of Occasion, he wanted to make his recent 2017 NYCO version of Candide a big “F*@#k You” to Donald Trump. Was that why the colors for that production were more darker and bleeker?
JD: I think that was important to him for the ending, he wanted the ending to be very alstreer. He never said that to me but hold on, wait a second, I want to show you something (she gets up from her chair, and grabs something off from her bookshelf). This was Hal’s opening night present to me (She proceeds to place on the table a Chia-Plant of Trump). This is the kind of humor we had. He’s handed me some really nice opening gifts but this time he handed me this.
CL: Could you tell me more about your designs for the character of Dr. Pangloss?
JD: His robe for the schoolroom scene was supposed to resemble a period dressing gown. With the red wig and the stripes on the robe, I wanted him to look like Ichabod Crane. In later iterations, these were plaid coats and not stripes, all depends on what you have at the time.
CL: I also love that when Pangloss arrives in Lisbon, he is wearing a patchwork outfit with a hump on his back. What was your inspiration for this?
JD: That costume was a one piece since the actor playing Pangloss had to do quick changes from Pangloss to Voltaire. The inspiration for that costume was for Pangloss to look like a Punch and Judy puppet, another theatrical callback. In the show as well if you recall, to start the story out, Pangloss starts out as Voltaire with a more period look. In ‘97 I based Voltaire’s red cloak and cap on the actual clothes the real Voltaire wore, that was all based on research. I also wanted him to look like an 18th century storyteller.
CL: Did you also design or have any input on the wigs and hats for Candide?
JD: Yes but sometimes I didn’t have much control. In 1982, we used NYCO hair and makeup people who had their traditional approach to hair and make-up. I didn’t think it translated well when the ‘82 production was recorded for PBS, it looked too extreme. It all depends on certain things but yes, you did get to have a conversation with them. And Hal had his input too as well because he wanted his characters to look a certain way. An example of different wigs was for the actresses who played Cuengonde, Erine Mills who played her in ‘82 had a blonde wig, Meghan Pierno in 2017 was a brunette while Harolyn Blackwell who was an African American Cuengonde who had a short afro. Her short afro was so darling we didn’t have to do anything with that. Absolutely darling! I had costumed Harolyn Blackwell in the past during the 80’s for a production of The Magic Flute where she played Pappagena and I did her as Tina Turner. She had this crazy wig and sequinned dress, strutting in mile high shoes. So, I worked with her before but we didn’t have to wig her for ‘97 production.
CL: And finally, my last question, do you have any fond memories of the creative team or cast members from the many versions of Candide you have done?
JD: Oh I love them all, I know that sounds terrible but it’s true. I’ve a particularly fond memory of the Broadway group. Some of the people I worked with on the Broadway production, I worked with them again and they were wonderful but it was more the ensemble feel of it all. I was told that when I won the Tony that year, the ensemble was sitting in the green room, I think they had just performed but I heard they went bananas when they found out I won. And that’s what it felt like, it felt like you were doing it for everybody. I think I even said in my acceptance speech that this was for them. I also thanked Hal Prince for his many acts of faiths over the years towards me and that was in reference to the “Auto Da Fe ” which means “act of faith” so I thought that was important.
Conclusion: Therefore and hence, wherefore and ergo!
This concludes my interview on the fabulous Ms. Judith Dolan. I would personally like to thank Ms. Dolan once again for her time and her attention for the questions I asked her, she is such a kind and gracious lady. Furthermore, I’d like to thank her not only for her stunning work on Candide but for her contribution to making all the productions she has worked on, and all the actors that have been in them, drop dead gorgeous with her magnificent creations.
See Judith Dolan on the 1997 Tony Awards!
See her costume’s in action with cast of Candide performing “The Overture/Bon Voyage” – 43:50
Judith and the other nominated designers discuss their creative process – 2:02:14
Judith’s acceptance speech – 2:08:20
The New York Times, Playbill, Catherine Ashmore, Jessica Tyler Wright, The La Jolla Historical Society, UCSD, Flickr