A tour through Goodspeed Musicals' Costume Collection

Wandering through Goodspeed's costume collection feels like taking a sartorial tour through Broadway's recent past.

Tucked into this aisle is the showstopping, full-length leopard coat Glenn Close wore as Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard." Over there, see the simple, muted-earth-tone clothing donned by Liam Neeson and Laura Linney for "The Crucible." Gaze upon a row of costumes by five-time Tony winner William Ivey Long, who was one of the first designers to give Goodspeed a Broadway collection.

While Goodspeed Musicals' Costume Collection is, naturally, flush with Goodspeed costumes, it's also a treasure trove of pieces from more than 30 Broadway shows as well as donated vintage items.

All told: more than 300,000 costumes. Total value: upwards of $33 million.

The collection is ensconced in climate-controlled rooms inside the same building that houses the Goodspeed's Norma Terris Theatre in Chester. The unassuming space is packed, floor to ceiling, with everything a performer could want to wear for pretty much any major show.

One room is devoted solely to shoes, like a Bradshawesque or Marcosian paradise. NJaye Olds, curator of Goodspeed's costume collection, estimates more than 5,000 pairs are housed there.

Another room consists of hats. Bobby hats? Of course. Turbans? Yes. Boaters? Plenty of 'em. Everything's helpfully grouped by description - "high crown, short brim, straw," for instance. (To rent a hat can cost anywhere from $5 to $20, as opposed to, say, a three-piece suit that might run $60 to $85.)

Goodspeed rents these all out to theaters around the country. On a recent day, two staff members were busily packing costumes for "Sunset Boulevard" into 10 boxes that were to be Fed-Exed to Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, Penn.

And every once in a while, the costumes make their way around the world. The "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" costumes were in Tokyo, in fact, when a major earthquake hit Japan last year. (No worries; they weren't damaged.)

Filmmakers, too, rent costumes probably once a year for extras. You could see them in "Enchanted," the 2007 film that sent a fairytale princess to modern-day New York City - and you'll see them, too, in the Julia Roberts Snow White-Evil Queen movie "Mirror Mirror" that's being released this year.

What makes this collection unique is the quality of the garments and the attention they're given.

"Basically, people come to us because the costumes just wow onstage; that is because they're taken care of," she says.

She's not throwing the term "wow" around loosely. That was the word used by a designer who is acting as costume coordinator for a production of "Sunset Boulevard" that's renting Goodspeed collection costumes.

"He said, 'There was no choice. Your costumes will wow onstage,'" Olds recalls.

Of the multitude of shows represented in Goodspeed collection, the most often rented is "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." The costumes are from the touring production starring Donny Osmond. The musical is very popular with colleges, and it's also the only show Goodspeed rents to high schools - provided they have a professional shop to take care of the costumes.

Ensuring the clothes are well maintained is vital. The pieces aren't rented to the general public.

Not that everyone could necessarily fit in them anyway.

"Costumes are built for Broadway bodies. I joke with people - a 10 is a plus size," Olds says.

The folks at Goodspeed do a good deal of work repairing pieces. On a recent day, a gloriously elaborate dress from "The Pirate Queen" (a musical by the same team behind "Les Misérables) was displayed on a mannequin, awaiting more restoration. It's luxurious black velvet, accented with brocade with metallic overnetting. It's all bedecked with brooches and pearls, and a hoop gives the skirt a dramatic heft. Beauty has its price; the gown is so heavy and awkward, it takes two people to get it on and off the form, Olds says.

Near the main work area stands, on display, the iconic red dress with white trim for "Annie" from Goodspeed's 1996 revival of its most famous show. Sitting atop a filing cabinet are a hat worn by Kevin Kline in "Cyrano de Bergerac" and another by Ben Vereen in "Fosse." (Olds found the Vereen one lumped in with the rest of Goodspeed's hat collection; she saw on a show tag inside the brim that it had been Vereen's.)

It's not just dealing with famous actors' clothing; sometimes, it's chatting with famous actors. Olds recalls talking to Keanu Reeves on the phone when some Goodspeed costumes were used for his 2011 film "Henry's Crime." Reeves also wanted to rent costumes, on his own dime, for the movie's stagehands so they could dress up (as Russian peasants in a production of "The Cherry Orchard" in the film) and appear onscreen.

Olds says, "I love my job - interesting people, fun toys, zero boredom."

Attention to details

Here are some other facts about Goodspeed Musicals' costume collection:

• They do accept vintage donations, but those pieces are not used onstage. Clothes created 50 or 60 years ago simply can't withstand being worn and danced in for eight shows a week, for 14 weeks. But those items are valuable; they can provide inspiration for costume designers or can be dismantled and used for patterns for pieces to be built with newer fabrics.

• Some of the pieces in the collection end up on the Goodspeed stage. For last year's opera house production of "Show Boat," about 75 percent of the costumes worn by ensemble members were pieces from the 1994 Broadway revival. The reason: there were so many people in the cast, and the characters moved through many time periods.

• The latest arrivals direct from Broadway are collections from "The Miracle Worker" and "Lend Me a Tenor."

• The collection includes some items that never made it to the Broadway stage because their scenes were cut. Among them: a stunning kimono - vibrant blues and purples - for "La Cage Aux Folles."

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