Leon Dobkowski Deconstructs His Inspirations & Designs for the All-New The Wiz at The Muny
June 22nd, 2018
by Leon Dobkowski
Costume designer Leon Dobkowski brings a fresh, fun look to the beloved musical The Wiz for a new production premiering at The Muny through June 25. This Wiz features direction from Tony nominee Denis Jones, reinvented choreography by Once On This Island’s Camille A. Brown, and an updated book by Late Night with Seth Meyers Emmy nominee Amber Ruffin.
BroadwayBox caught up with Leon to spotlight a few of his exciting designs for these classic Oz characters.
I think it’s hard to say what my way into it was. I think since so much work is being done on the book and reworking the whole thing that it was really lovely to just be a part of the process of reinventing these characters with Denis and Camille and Amber. That was our way into it: How do we make it modern? Camille’s done a good job of putting different types of social dance into each of the numbers. So, we’ve tried to reflect what that type of dance is in clothes. For example, our Emerald City is not a posh, high-fashion stuffy crowd; it’s more of like a house party.
It’s an evil character who’s holding all these people hostage in her sweatshop. Also there’s this idea of Henry the 8th, and that she’s kind of stuck in these clothes. Taking them off and putting them back on again is probably more work than anyone would want to do. And so, she just kept them on, and she’s sweating in them and smelly and stinking and miserable and unhappy and everything else. In the design, there’s the idea of a corset that’s just holding her in and then an explosion of these demons and spirits and Winkies trying to escape from her skirt.
The Tin Man
The big challenge for me with the Tin Man is I didn’t want a silver Tin Man. I definitely wanted to put some color in there. That’s why we have those vintage Kansas license plates as pockets. We found a bunch of vintage 1970s bottle caps that we used as bolts instead of using a bolt and added all the stickers that are on the construction helmet—just anything to bring color into it.
This is actually a bunch of denim, foiled canvas, and foiled plastic put together. It’s foiled to look like it’s metal. A lot of the tubing is just aquarium tubing. The goal of all of this is to make sure they’re able to dance, so a lot of it is stretch canvas. My least favorite thing is an actor saying, ‘Now that I have this on, I have to change my movement.’
Amber reworked the whole Poppy section so that there’s no longer these street walker, seductive Poppies. They’re kind of this elegant group of ladies. We call them the Real Housewives of Poppyville. They just lounge around and don’t do anything. Almost like the ladies who lunch. So, we landed on these dresses and these headpieces that appear as though their hair is kind of wrapped up into the headpiece.
The Crows & The Winged Monkey
It’s hard when you put animal characters on stage with people. Because if it’s a whole show just about animals, you can do anything, right? Because that’s the vocabulary, but as soon as you put a human on there, it’s like, ‘Well, I know what a human looks like now in this world.’
It all started with the crows. One of Camille, Denis, and my initial thoughts was trying to cover faces with a crow headpiece and make them more animalistic, and then we quickly turned because it felt too mascot. It didn’t feel like this Oz world. Animals should be more suggestive of animals, but not necessarily animals.
For the monkeys, we had these great dancers. These men and women have amazing bodies and they move so beautifully, so it was really important to not cover them too much and to make sure that we could really see the choreography—see the lines of the body. So, we tried to elongate the arm by making the shoulder be much higher and built up, so it seems as if they would be hunched over a little bit. Then instead of having these wings, we have these sculpted porcupine quills like spikes almost that come out on a backpack situation that they have on.
Addaperle & Glinda
The goal is to try to make these two women look different, and yet still evoke this witch characteristic of it. Addaperle is like the hometown sister as opposed to the successful sister, you know? She’s the not-so-famous sister…the other one. But in a good way. She’s totally happy with where she’s at in her life. She has her traveling magic act and she’s doing her thing with that in Munchkin Land, which to me, has a more country feel to it, as opposed to the city. I think Glinda obviously comes from the city. That’s where she does her act. Glinda is like going to the Beyonce concert. She doesn’t need anybody else. She’s cool on her own. So, the two are kind of connected, but not.
The Wiz runs at The Muny through June 25!