A Dress That Needs Its Own Car: Behind the Making of Glinda’s Dress in The Wiz | Playbill

Special Features A Dress That Needs Its Own Car: Behind the Making of Glinda’s Dress in The Wiz

Star Deborah Cox and costume designer Sharen Davis collaborated on a grand dress that contained gold, mirrors, and magic.

Deborah Cox and Sharen Davis Heather Gershonowitz

How can a dress take flight without leaving the ground? In the new Broadway revival of The Wiz, costume designer Sharen Davis sought to infuse every stitch with enchantment, without needing Glinda the Good Witch to fly in the production (as she’s traditionally been portrayed). With actor/R&B star Deborah Cox gracing the stage as Glinda, the dress needed to blend Cox’s own grounded depiction while maintaining the mystical allure of Oz.

“I wanted to portray Glinda as mythical, fun, magical, sultry, commanding, independent—all the things you’re not supposed to be as a woman,” says Cox. “Not the sort of prissy Glinda with this high tone, but [someone who is] very grounded, very focused and a visionary.”

The Wiz is a contemporary, Black-led rendition of Frank L. Baum’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It first premiered on Broadway in 1975. This first major Broadway revival is currently running at the Marquis Theatre. With a new book by Amber Ruffin, in this version, Dorothy is newly arrived to Kansas and is bullied at school. She is then whisked away by a tornado to a mystical realm brimming with rock, soul, and gospel music. She then embarks on a journey of self-discovery with a band of unexpected friends.

The timeless musical has been a staple in Black representative art and viewing it remains a rite of passage for young Black children across the country. It is a historic work with a substantial Afrofuturistic influence. The show’s use of art, culture, and mysticism welcomes the Black community into visions of an inclusive future. While mainstream media often forgets to include Black faces in its portrayal of sci-fi/fantasy, Afrofuturism imagines a shared future for everyone.

The Wiz reflects the traditions of the African diaspora, celebrating the richness and diversity of Black culture. “It’s an evolution taking our African heritage with our urban and American heritage, fusing them together to create something new and special,” says Davis, reflecting on her own definition of Afrofuturism.

Sharen Davis Heather Gershonowitz

This influence is encapsulated in every aspect of the production beyond what is seen on stage. Not only is the show supported by an all-Black cast, it also features the work of many passionate Black creatives who have dedicated an extensive amount of time in combining African tradition with modernity. Davis is one of those creatives. She studied 15 different productions of The Wiz to create a look for the characters that is unique to this production. In this version, Dorothy wears a blue skater dress and her silver slippers are now silver booties.

But the grandest costume piece was Glinda the Good Witch’s dress. Traditionally, Glinda appears towards the end of the show where she sings the show’s 11’o clock number called “Believe in Yourself.” In this new Wiz, Glinda welcomes Dorothy when she arrives in Oz, and sings the song “He’s the Wiz.” When it comes to Glinda’s dress, Davis was also informed by how Dorothy perceives Glinda in the story. To her, Glinda is Dorothy’s superego, a reflection of Dorothy’s consciousness. She is the driving force who points Dorothy in the right direction and convinces Dorothy to believe in herself. 

“I needed her to look like wisdom. Unconsciously, gold represents enlightenment and transformation. Diamonds represent a mirror to the soul,” says Davis. “All these things that are on her costume are all the positive parts of a human being’s consciousness.”

Davis had drawn 10 sketches of the dress prior to Cox joining the project—the designer described those previous versions as more “subdued.” Ten more sketches were added after Cox was casted, which elevated and refined the concept.

Costume design sketch for Deborah Cox as Glinda in The Wiz Sharen Davis, Darell Fuente
Deborah Cox Heather Gershonowitz

The final version of the dress, tailored by Eric Winterling, consists of a bodice and neck piece enveloped in gold beads and crystals. The underskirt is silk with hand-placed mirrors embedded into it. The outside skirt is semi-sheer organza fabric with a gold satin trim. Davis says that the biggest challenge was balancing each layer so that they properly flounced, like floating clouds.

To make Glinda even grander, Davis designed a jacket that the good witch could wear for her finale performance of “Believe in Yourself.” In the midst of fog and twinkling stars, Glinda emerges with a new bodice decorated with diamond-shaped mirrors—it allows the lights to reflect off Cox, giving her an otherworldly glow. It also includes long, golden sleeves lined with gold feathers to reflect color and give off a weightless air. “When Deborah sings, I needed the jacket to be a part of her body like it’s attached to her skin,” says Davis. “She could just elevate from the jacket itself and the skirt. It was very important that these also looked very light and were illuminated.”

Exclaims Cox with joy: "The magic was sewn into the dress." Despite its elaborateness, she affirms that it truly is light as a feather. “It’s not heavy. It’s just a different material.”

Costume design sketch for Deborah Cox as Glinda in The Wiz Sharen Davis, Darell Fuente
Nichelle Lewis and Deborah Cox in The Wiz Jeremy Daniel

The revival of The Wiz launched a national tour before its historic return to Broadway. Davis found it important to bring this sense of wonder directly to Black audiences, which also meant there needed to be a plan on how to transport Glinda’s dress. 

Cox admits there was some quirky complexities to make sure the dress was protected. “Every time we have to do something press wise, the costume gets a plane seat, the costume gets its own car, its own dressing room because it’s so delicate,” laughs Cox. “We try as a company to make sure that it’s always intact because it’s one of a kind."

Davis jumps in to describe how the dress was stored as it was transported across the country: “Every night the skirt hangs upside down so that the ruffles don’t get too heavy. We had to wrap the jacket and give it a lot of space. It was like a science project.”

Deborah Cox Heather Gershonowitz

Davis also reminisced on the pride she felt touring with the production and sharing The Wiz to Black audiences across the nation. “There are people who can’t afford to come to New York in the Black culture. It was so great to see predominantly Black audiences in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles so people have the opportunity to see the show before it opens on Broadway,” says Davis. “We brought it to our own people first.”

A new generation of theatregoers have been ushered into the community as a result, who can experience the indescribable pride of seeing one's culture reflected on stage. Cox emphasizes the need for more Black-led productions in the theatre world.

“I hope the people are inspired to do more productions like this,” says Cox. “I hope that there will be many more that come out of this show because we need more. It’s time to create, have fun, and get that support for productions like this.”

Photos: The Wiz on Broadway

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