Forbidden Broadway: Alive and Kicking: An Interview with Costume Designer Philip Heckman
After three-years off the stage, Broadway's biggest satire, Forbidden Broadway, has returned newly rebooted as Forbidden Broadway: Alive & Kicking. The original version opened in 1982, and since then creator Gerard Alessandrini has rewritten the show over a dozen times to include Broadway's current hits. As theater critic Benjamin Brantley of The New York Times put it: "For just $79 and 100 minutes of your time this little satire gives you everything you need to be witty, withering and informed about long, expensive musicals that would cost you thousands of dollars to see ... "
Forbidden Broadway: Alive & Kicking opened at the 47th Street Theatre in Manhattan last week. To get a better sense of this sure-to-be-hit and new (yet old) Broadway classic, I chatted with the show's costume designer Philip Heckman about on stage satire, modern Broadway theater, and breaking into the business.
Elena Sheppard (ES): Our site is geared toward 20 something readers many of whom just graduated from college. What were your early jobs out of college? Did you jump right into costume design?
Philip Heckman (PH): My early (paying) jobs right out of college were all costume design related, but not necessarily costume design. My first job was working at One World Trade Center in the uniform/wardrobe department at Windows On The World. Every employee at the restaurant and club from the sushi chefs to the "cigarette girls" wore custom designed uniforms that I altered, repaired, checked out, checked in, sent to dry cleaning and generally just kept looking like they did on opening night. Since this was an early morning/day job my nights were free to costume design late night cabaret shows as well as a few off-off Broadway productions and workshops.
ES: Did you have a "big break" so to speak?
PH: I wouldn't call it a "big break"; however, being accepted to the MFA program in Costume Design at NYU Tisch School of the Arts started the ball rolling. Every costume design job that I have been hired for can be tracked back to an instructor or contact I made while a student at NYU.
ES: You did the costumes for Forbidden Broadway, what is the scale of putting a show like this together? How many costumes and people are we talking about?
PH: The scale for Forbidden Broadway is very large. There are four performers in the show and about two dozen numbers. There are over 100 costumes that have all been rigged for lightening fast quick changes backstage. So, as an audience member, you get to see an average of one new costume every minute. Sometimes they come in groups of three or four and sometimes one at a time. I have been working on the show for three months (we opened Thursday) with an assistant, two interns and various costume and tailor shops in the city.
ES: I've read a lot about the Nice Work If You Can Get It spoof, is this the biggest in the show? Which shows are on the chopping block?
PH: People really respond to the Matthew Broderick character in this number. During the televised Tony Awards, I think people were really surprised that Mr. Broderick had "put on a couple of pounds." So, in the spirit of Forbidden Broadway, I commented on his recent weight gain and that is obviously reflected in the costume design. Other shows that are spoofed are Evita, Newsies, Book of Mormon, Spider-Man, the list goes on and on.
ES: Which costumes are you the most excited about in this production? Any real stand outs from your point of view?
PH: One costume I was really excited about was the War Horse costume. Unfortunately, it was cut during previews. Our actor wore a bright blue "puppet" version of "Joey" which included the horse head (with jumbo googlie eyes), a caged bustle with fabric tail and hand held hooves. The design was based on a vintage Follies photograph from the 1920's.
ES: I know you also design a lot of drag shows. Is there a similarity between designing for drag shows and designing for a show like Forbidden Broadway?
PH: I used to design a lot of drag shows in NYC's East and West Village and it was great training for surviving in the off-Broadway (and Broadway) world. Dealing with challenging budgets, turning out great designs in a very short amount of time, and defining characters have all translated well to the legitimate stage.
ES: Any words of advice for aspiring designers out there?
PH: Only take on projects that you think you will love. There is not a lot of money to be made designing stage shows in New York. The payoff really needs to be the pride and joy experienced in a job well done.
ES: As PolicyMic is heavily politics focused I have to ask, who is better dressed the Obamas or the Romneys?
PH: The Obamas. I am a big fan of mixing the high and low-end. Michelle Obama can wear Jason Wu one day and J. Crew or Target the next and look equally fabulous in both. The First Lady has great style and I am always looking forward to what she will wear next.
Forbidden Broadway is running at the 47th Street Theatre at 304 West 47th Street. Ticket information can be found here.