Monday, March 26, 2012

Marilynn Wick and The Broadway Collection at Costume World!

If You Rest , You Rust!
-Helen Hayes

Happy Monday!
It's a new week; a new slate! What are YOU going to do with it? I had a great weekend. Yesterday, I went to a local high school production of Sweet Charity! It was AMAZING! I was blown away with the attention to details. The acting was great, the attention to details. The girl playing Charity had those Gwen Verdon leg and arm movements down to a science. I could not believe I was seeing a high school production. The costumes were well inspired.

Speaking of costumes, I want to introduce you to an amazing woman with an incredible history and a mission that needs to be known about. I've known of Marilynn Wick through my friend, Michael Walters.
Michael Walters is an entertainer who has become the resident entertainer since Marilynn's Broadway collection opened within the past year.

Michael Walters and Wanda Richert

Last week, there was much anticipation and excitement over the fact that the Today Show was coming to do a segment on Broadway World. Having The Broadway Collection only being open a year and getting the Today Show to do a segment on it is pretty heady!
Wanda Richert, who won a Tony Award for playing Peggy Sawyer in the original production of 42nd Street was even on hand.
She even got into one of her original costumes!

Michael posted it on his wall on Facebook encouraging everyone to tune in. There's an old adage that reads, "Be careful what you wish for..." It would have been one thing if the Today Show had sent reporters who really wanted to celebrate the work that Marilynn has done. It is an entirely a different ball of wax when you send a "hack" reporter like Jenna Bush to do a piece that focuses on herself.

We came away knowing no more about this amazing exhibit than we did before it aired.

I felt that needed to be fixed. I called Michael, got in touch with Marilyn, and here is her story.

Marilyn's personal philosophy in life is, "Let's get the job done, and nothing can stop you! If you have a dream, you can do it."
Courtesy, Doug Lucas
Marilynn's love for the theatre began for her, as a child, when the secretary of the school asked her if she wanted to go see a "Broadway" show. She didn't quite know what "Broadway" was. The secretary took her to see "South Pacific". Marilynn told me she could hardly sit in her seat, she was so excited. It was a road company of the Broadway hit.
Marilynn doesn't recall anyone famous being in the show; it didn't matter...especially for this little girl who was having her first taste of LIVE theatre!
As a little girl growing up in Jamestown, New York
(Lucille Ball's hometown), several iconic people impacted Marilynn and increased her love of entertainment. The greatest entertainer of all time to Marilynn was Judy Garland.
 Marilynn said every time you saw her, she was "on"! She loves that kind of energy. You knew how great she was instantly because of what she exuded. Marilynn is also a huge fan of Angela Lansbury. She still has a desire to meet her. Lansbury, Marilynn says, has conducted a career with such style and class.
Marilynn has the original costumes from Mame on display at the museum. Of course that includes the famed yellow "It's Today" pajamas and the monkey fur coat from "Open A New Window". They are on display and they are doing restorations on these pieces.
These costumes are very hard to come by. Some companies don’t have the reverence for their value.
Marilynn also loves Katherine Hepburn.  Marilyn also has great love for her favorite designer, Cecil Beaton.  

He was so talented, across the boards, in everything. When you have a designer who does costumes AND sets, Marilynn feels the palattes are somewhat enhanced. Everything blends in so well. Marilynn tells  me that sometimes when the costumer is not in sync with the sets, the costumes might not work. 
 Marilynn feels, based on her background, that her business acumen is much greater than her theatre acumen. She has always  loved the theatre, but she was a business woman first.  Because of that, she was able to take her love of the theatre and build it into something.

When a director calls Marilynn and says, “ I would like to do a show completely different from what people are used to.” Marilyn never closes a door on a director’s vision.  A case in point is her Camelot collection featuring Julie Andrews original costumes.  A director comes in and suggests that he wants to do Camelot but wants to get as far away from the original vision as possible. Marilynn may not agree with this new director’s vision but  she would never dissuade the new director’s concept.

She believes that is the only way to grow as a costume designer. She never shuts the door. I’ve learned the way to success is YES! She desires every director and producer to know she would go a hundred miles to give them what they desire. Her company’s goal and mission is to always accommodate.   
Dolly Wardrobe
I asked Marilynn about her thoughts on arts in education. She agrees, as I do that this beginning sets the groundwork for ALL the arts. If we don't start when they are young, it will not continue. Marilynn says right now she is really frightened. She says that some of the kids that come through the museum have never seen a LIVE show. When she interviews someone she asks them to name the last five shows they've seen. 
Marilynn's advice to anyone wanting to go into the arts is to see as much as you can and learn as much as you can...across the boards. From the buying of the tickets all the way to the back of the house, learn it all, take as many lessons as you can so that you're able to fit in anywhere to share your love so that you can be successful in any aspect of it. Marilynn loves doing things across the board. She never was an actress although she tried at one time to do that. She just wasn't successful at it. However, when she was in community theatre, she worked on the costumes,anywhere! She just wanted to belong there.As long as she was involved, she felt wonderful. She just wanted to make a difference. 

Dolly Wardrobe
Since most of my blogs feature Carol Channing and my commitment to see Carol Channing receive the 2012 Kennedy Center Honor, we touched upon this. Marilynn says she absolutely agrees that Carol should take home this honor this year. She deserves credit for how hard she has worked all these years. Marilynn says the Hello, Dolly! exhibit in the museum is the most popular and people ask hundreds of questions about Carol. It is the one place the tourists spend the most time. Everyone is very interested in hearing about Carol. They love her to death. The older community will never forget her. 

Marilynn has the largest Broadway costume collection in the world. It started originally because of Marilynn's involvment with high school and regional theatre communities. She felt that in order to really soar in the South Florida region, she needed to reach beyond her boundaries. She decided to start reaching out to original Broadway productions. By doing so, she learned even more about those productions. And it is a team effort: the cutters, the milliners, everyone involved in costuming share in this passion. When Marilynn's team designs a garment, they are not presenting anything at a "high school level". 
It was 20 years ago when she started buying her first wardrobe but she has been in this industry 38 years. Marilynn's mother always told her to start at the top. If you start at the bottom, that's where you are. For Marilynn, Broadway is the top in her field. Marilyn maintains a staff of 55! 55 people who work across the Costume World chain.
Indianapolis Symphony

Marilynn is currently working very hard in bringing in some private collections. By the end of this year, they hope to have Liberace's collection. They hope to have these collections on display. She desires more people to come and enjoy these collections. They have developed their own followers, those that have come two or three times. It is 25,000 square feet and a bit overwhelming to take it all in in one visit. Marilynn's vision was not just for people to see these costumes on display, but to also see the artistry that has gone into these costumes. If you see all of these costumes in one setting, you end up having a greater appreciation. You end up having the COMPLETE costume experience. That is what Marilynn's mission is.

Bruce Weber doing a photo shoot on the Collection for Vogue Magazine was a pretty big achievement for Marilynn. Fashion Meets Broadway! That was a big plus in the costume industry.To be honored by this great photographer! He is so world renowned. 

The lowest point in Marilynn's career came in 1984 when she tried to buy Eaves-Brooks, the largest Broadway costume rental company in the United States. She had put a lot of effort into the purchase, only to find out one day before the closing that he was not going to sell it to her. She had given up 40 percent of her holding stock in her company in order to make this purchase happen. She had to regroup her entire thought process. It had taken her months to get him to the table to get the deal done. Actually, she was very drained leading up to that transaction. 
Now, it is almost twenty years to the date! 
When Dodger went under on Broadway, once again, this collection went up on the auction block. The minute Marilynn heard about this, she went into action. She flew to New York and started bidding on it. It took her four months to get it. She then had to come up with all the money in 24 hours. She then had only 10 days to move it without penalty. She said she never worked so hard in her life to get that wardrobe. It would have cost her hundreds upon thousands of dollars if she did not move it in the time allotted. She had no choice. 
At the closing, she was $100,000 short. At the last minute, a Broadway investor, with a huge love for Broadway, who knew Marilynn well, ran into her the night before. She told him of her plight and he loaned her the money! He wrote her the check in a restaurant and said, "Marilynn, go make the deal. We'll draw up the papers tomorrow." Then she spent $10,000 on boxes to move the wardrobe. It cost her over $50,000 just to move it out of New York.

When Marilyn got into this industry, she had never even been in a costume shop. She is from rural America where there is no such thing as a costume house. The first time she was ever on a stage, being from Jamestown, NY, was the Lucille Ball Theatre. Marilynn still has a farm there, near Chautauqua. 
Marilyn's passions run deep. She desires not only the entertainers on Broadway to look wonderful, but for every consumer to know about dressing up and losing themselves in the art of dressing up. It's a win-win situation when people come back to Marilynn after a rental and say, "I had the most wonderful evening wearing your clothes. I never had so much fun." To Marilynn, that makes her whole career. 

I asked Marilynn if she considers what she wears clothing or costumes. She said, "Never forget: The clothes you're wearing today are the costumes of tomorrow." Never throw anything away! 

Marilyn is extremely happy at this point in her life as far as her business is concerned. She started this business on her dining room table with five Santa suits. She had a wonderful experience that Christmas with her children. They were 11 and 12 years old. Everyone that came to their house got dressed up like Santa and went out the door happy. They went out with their boxes ($25.00 a rental) excited and Marilynn was excited for them. Her kids were learning about being entrepreneurs at a very young age. Her youngest daughter would run in the kitchen and get a glass of milk and a cookie for each customer. Marilynn had to stop her from feeding them all! 

Marilynn says she's not done yet; she's will on her way to being exactly what she set out to do. 

Trying to make a go of this in the worst economy in the world is one giant hiccup. You buy the largest costume company in the world, you move it to South Florida, you now own it, and you desire to turn it into something wonderful. You say to yourself, "Hopefully, they will come." To get this off the ground has been a huge undertaking. The curating work alone that has gone into this. Finding out if what you own is legitimate. The research work that has been done. Putting it back together and in order so that people can enjoy it has been a monumental task. Producing 60 to 70 productions a month. They never lose sight of quality. That has gotten Marilynn to where she is today. 

It is a full time occupation building upon their business. They have "in house" booking agents contacting theatres to let them know of their collection. It is a niche business and therefore they have to stay on top of their game. Marilynn realizes that change is happening all the time and if you are not changing with the times, you will be left behind. They have a website. Let's say you want to do Hello, Dolly! All you do is click on Theatrical, Costume Plot, and you see the costumes dancing and how they actually work. Visually, they try to do as much with the internet as they can. Blogging, Twitter Facebook. All of that is a part of our industry now. Marilynn knows that if you're not on top of it, you will be left behind. She has three people employed who do nothing but social media. 
 A genie pops out of a lamp and grants Marilynn three wishes. Her first wish would be to move the museum to New York. We should have this in New York City! It is the history of Broadway!! The second wish is that her children will keep this business going as long as she has and that they will enjoy it.

They, of course, will be the inherited costumers. She NEVER wants the wardrobe to be sold off at any time. 

Out of her collection, her absolute favorite piece is the My Fair Lady exhibit and her absolute favorite is the Julie Andrews Embassy Ball gown from My Fair Lady. This gown is now going through restoration. 

Marilynn has been so busy that she hasn't seen a LIVE show in a LOONNNGGGG time! The last stage she saw was the Broadway revival of Nine. She hasn't been to New York in three years. She wants to bring her entire staff. Believe it or not she has done that! 

She brings her entire team (it costs her between $30-40,000) and they see as many musicals as they can fit in in hopes of building upon what is already part of the museum. 
 If someone offers her a new piece or if she hears about something, she is ready to jump into action. The last collection she acquired was The Producers, which she bought out of Vegas. She flew to Vegas, made the deal, and brought it home.
 These were from the original Broadway show but touring did a number on the costumes as it usually does. Sometimes a Broadway production is sold to Troika or Networks and they take the costumes and beat them to hell.
 They don't give them the care and attention they need and they ruin the quality of these costumes. To make a wardrobe last and stay intact, you have to love the costumes. You have to care for them. It's the only way to preserve them.  Clothes that are designed for Broadway cannot be treated like regular clothing. Some of the artists that designed these costumes are no longer with us. 
 For example, when the Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls was built, a lot of thought went into those costumes. The jackets and ties danced on the men. Nothing was out of place. You can't move like that on Broadway in regular clothes. People don't understand that there are snaps in the right place for a quick costume change.

 Sometimes even on the lapels and shoulders to keep pieces in place or a look of something being two or three inches longer to achieve a certain look. When Marilynn puts a garment on a hanger, it better dance! If it dances on stage, it better dance in her exhibits. It should crackle on the bottom so that when you see that garment, it brings back some of the excitement of what it was like when it was seen on Broadway.    

So many people, including yours truly, are grateful that Marilynn has preserved this history. When she hears these compliments, she feels as if she has achieved her dream. I can feel her passion about this. She feels that every bit of exposure brings her closer to accomplishing her mission. Go to Costume World in Florida to share in a TRUE Broadway experience!
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The Broadway Collection by Costume World's Facebook page


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!

                                 Tomorrow's blog will be..Judith Drake's memories of the international tour of Hello, Dolly! starring Mary Martin

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

  Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

Richard Skipper,
This Blog is dedicated to ALL ARTISTS: Past, present and future and the gifts they give to the world! I WANT YOU TO SUCCEED!


  1. This is AMAZING, Richard! Thank you for doing what NBC failed to accomplish!!!!!

  2. What a great piece! I hope the public relations team at Costume World take advantage of this informative, interesting and well-written article!

  3. Great article, we have posted this on The Broadway Collection's Facebook Page!

  4. This is a mascara killer for me, Richard - and I love it! When I saw that South Pacific was Marilyn's first show I could feel myself sitting in the theater with my parents when I saw the original. It wasn't the first Broadway musical I saw. However, I think this and, maybe, Carousel are what glued me to theater
    Thanks for this article.