After Dan Martinkus decided to direct the 1983 summer musical, he had his staff in place except for one position. I don't recall if the original Costume Designer had to withdraw, but knowing that my wife, Phyllis, designed and sewed clothes for the family, he asked her if she would be interested in the position. Taking one look at the long list, her reaction was... "I'll help with the sewing." I had designed many things over the years, so with no experience, but always interested in a new challenge, I suggested that I could at least design them on paper. And, rather than taking on that added duty himself, Dan handed it off to me. I had seen two National Companies of the show, with Carol Channing and Dorothy Lamour as Dolly, so I was familiar with the bright flavor of the show and the period attire, and jumped in and with a little research took one costume at a time and made a very rough watercolor sketch of each. I don't recall how long it took, but the list seemed to go on and on.
My real interest in the show, was that I wanted to try out for Horace Vandergelder, and was thrilled that I got the part, and looked forward to working with the entire cast of talent, especially to play opposite Cindy Morris (Myers) and could foresee the humorous look of the two of us together, since I towered over her. So with the show cast, measurements taken, and with sketches in hand, Dan and I spent a day picking out yards of material and suitable basic patterns that could be modified to reflect the turn of the century look. Many of the female costumes would be passed on to those who could sew, but Dan took on the task of creating Dolly's red gown for the title number, sewing many sequins and hot gluing hundreds of jewels. For the same scene, I wanted Ernestina to be overly endowed, so Dan, being like minded, stuffed her sequined emerald green bodice so it protruded almost a foot in front, and with wing-like sheers draped in back, it caused one cast member to remark, "It looked like a gigantic fly coming at me!" For "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" I wanted both men and women to be in shades of sunny yellow, so Dan hand dyed white tuxedo jackets in every shade from pale yellow to ocher. I did make one of the costumes using paper mache' over a chicken wire frame for the smiling horse with the long eyelashes.
I was very proud of my own addition to one scene that was not scripted or directed. In the Harmonia Gardens scene where Dolly and Vandergelder are seated at a table which is crammed with the meal that Dolly has ordered, while she shoveled food (all cotton candy) into her mouth and talked continually, rejecting the idea that she is out to marry Horace, by stating as she points,"You go your way, Horace Vandergelder... and I'll go mine!" (Gesturing in the same direction.) I purposely avoided noticing this, and tried hard to get a word in, as I repeatedly cut chicken or stabbed potatoes and beets, raising my fork to take a bite and stopped by her latest comment, never once got even one morsel of food in my mouth, in contrast to Dolly's ravenous appetite.
The entire experience was one of the most exciting and fun shows ever. As much as Horace tried to avoid Dolly's interference in his life, and her determination to win his heart, by the end of the show she had him on his knees so she towered over him. Then, totally smitten and singing the reprise of the title song was one of the my most thrilling moments on stage. The colorful set and costumes, combined with the hilarious story and charming music worked so well to create a bright and upbeat view of an era from long ago.