A new production of Evita hit Broadway this month, with headliner Ricky Martin promising to draw the crowds. As thrilling as it was to see Martin as Che in a wife beater (he did shake his bon bon at least once), being both fashion and musical nerds, we were more excited to see Elena Roger as Eva Peron (she won an Olivier–the British equivalent of the Tony–for the role in the West End production) and her costumes.
We chatted with costume designer Christopher Oram about how he set out costuming the first re-staging of the show since the original 1979 production graced the Great White Way, and how he tackled that famous balcony dress, based on an original Christian Dior design that the real Eva Peron once wore.
Fashionista: We watch Evita go from a poor country girl with big dreams to the first lady of Argentina. How did you approach Evita’s transformation through her clothes?
Christopher Oram: A lot of research! Understanding the nature of the story as presented by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, and working out how her clothes would then visually represent the various stages of her journey from rural poverty to the top of Argentine society.
What challenges did you come across doing the costumes for this show? What things did you want to do differently from the original 1978 stage production?
Hal Prince’s original production is held in high esteem, but it was my job to re-imagine it for a new generation. The piece itself remains much the same but the perspective from which an audience now views it, is very different from one 30 years ago. Our increased knowledge of South American society, allows us to represent it in a more truthful, accurate, and much more detailed form than it was originally.
The “Don’t Cry For Me” balcony scene dress is amazing. Tell me about the design–what was your thinking behind it? And how many crystals were on that dress?
The pivotal moment of the piece, Eva’s debut to her people, was always in our minds as the heart of the piece. She needed to be at her most beautiful, her most luminous, at this moment, and indeed both the set (which I also designed) and the dress, were designed to reflect and emphasize this specific moment in her journey and the show itself. The dress itself has over 160,000 Swarovski crystals.
In “Rainbow High” she changes so many times! How did you pull that off?
A lot of rehearsal! Elena is and was incredibly patient, and is also incredibly game! Thanks must go too, to the rest of the company who are so brilliant in assisting her so subtly and effortlessly in all her many onstage changes.
What parts of the decades Evita covers–from the ’30s through the ’40s–do you see elements of working today?
I think none of the looks, from the aristocractic dresses of Peron’s Latest Flame to the workers’ pants of A New Argentina would look out of place on the streets on any modern city today.
Any tricks you can divulge? Secret places to shop?
Always look around you, always pay attention. You can find anything, anywhere, if you just look with your mind open.
For a little more insight into how that dress came to be, watch this. Those 160,000 Swarovski crystals? They were sewn on by hand.