Nearly 50 years ago, before she became a Hollywood icon, Meryl Streep made her Broadway debut in an ivory-colored Edwardian costume, carefully sewn with trapunto lace and antique point de gaze. Now, for the first time, it will be on display at the Museum of Broadway, opening November 15.
“[Meryl Streep] probably doesn’t even know it still exists,” costume curator Michael McDonald recently told Vanity Fair over Zoom. Streep wore the ensemble for her role as Imogen Parrott in the Public Theatre’s 1975 production of Trelawny of the “Wells” at the Vivian Beaumont Theater and now the public can admire the craftsmanship that went into its creation when the museum opens its doors in the coming days.
“Isn’t it amazing, all this super-intense, beautiful detail?” McDonald’s colleague, Lisa Zinni, the museum’s curator of costumes and props, said of the piece during a recent Zoom. But before the dress was ready to be put on display, a ripped sleeve had to be repaired, restored, and made ready for public viewing.
“It is the workmanship that goes into this dress that makes it spectacular,” added McDonald. “There’s all this lace and appliqué lying on top. It was clever the way they created several jackets and long coats for her to wear over the same dress to give different looks throughout the play.”
The look was created by the late legendary costume designer Theoni V. Aldredge, who was also the mastermind behind some of the most memorable costumes for the original productions of A Chorus Line, Dreamgirls, Annie, La Cage aux Folles, and 42nd Street. And now, for the first time, fans can see the innate and intricate work up close in a museum.
Five years ago, Broadway producer Julie Boardman and creative director Diane Nicoletti began developing the soon-to-open Museum of Broadway. Friends for 20 years, they had been talking about why there wasn’t a Broadway museum and decided to make it a permanent marquee in the theater district.
“Once we started really diving into the real estate piece of it, and just all the conversations within the Broadway community, because this project is very much being built by the community and for the community, it became really clear that it should exist, it shouldn’t be temporary, we should make something that’s permanent, for the brand of Broadway in general,” Boardman said.
Inside, there are a number of artifacts from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Oscar Hammerstein’s music papers, which are preserved in the Library of Congress, have been replicated for the museum. There are displays of telegrams to Carol Channing from the opening night of Hello, Dolly! in 1964 as well as a reproduced version of the original script from Camelot covered in notes.
And what’s Broadway without costumes? Historic 100-year-old Ziegfeld Follies pieces are on loan from Disney Theatrical Productions that have served as the basis for every showgirl costume since. There’s also a never-used top hat from the original production of A Chorus Line, Sutton Foster’s robe from The Drowsy Chaperone, Jennifer Hudson’s A Color Purple outfit, and Bernadette Peters’s Hello, Dolly! frock. A costume worn by Celeste Holm in Oklahoma back in the early 1940s is also on display.
With each item comes a fascinating story about how it was curated. “It’s not that easy because you can have a big, long list of stuff that everybody wants to see,” explained Zinni. “But it’s actually a lot harder than you think, to try and find these pieces.”
Some pieces, like Streep’s dress, were expertly stored and sealed to protect them from dust and damage in a big costume warehouse. “It’s really sad because a lot of costumes from yesteryear were not preserved,” said Boardman.