An inside look at the creative costuming for BYU's latest musical production

After (literally) flying around the stage in tailored suits and bustled dresses, actors and actresses in BYU’s “Mary Poppins” are given a mere 25 seconds to change into completely different costumes before the next scene begins. Impossible, right?

Fortunately, the BYU Costume Shop is used to making the impossible happen — and doing it in style.

With their help, Bert can fly upside down with a suit strategically tailored for harness clips. Mary’s dress can fold out as she dances, then collapse back into itself when she’s ready for a leisurely stroll.

“The early 1900s was a rather stiff period, actually,” said Rory Scanlon, BYU theatre and media arts professor and costume designer. “Women were in fairly tight dresses and men were in tailored suits, and yet the actors have to be able to dance and roll and leap around the stage.” And all of the production’s 22 actors and actresses can change costumes in a flash.

With spoonfuls of sugar, flying kites and cheery chimney sweeps, “Mary Poppins” is one of the most iconic Disney movies ever made, and it was up to Scanlon to translate the costumes of its characters into a theatre production.

“Mary brings magic to the world; she brings help to a family in trouble,” Scanlon said. “The audience will see a monotone 1910 set until Mary Poppins brings the first bit of color. Over time the clothing will gradually become more and more colorful to symbolize the effect she has on people.” 

Cast members will each make at least eight costume changes by the end of the show. Observant audience members will see that color is also used to convey a message about the family, which is the major theme of the play.

“Most of the house has complementary colors, but the husband just doesn’t get it,” Scanlon said. “He’s so entrenched in the banking world that he’s in contrast to all of them. Most of the show is really about converting the dad to his own family.”

Scanlon spent months analyzing the script and studying the fashion of the time period before he began sketching out costumes. From there, the Costume Shop was his first stop.

“We have costumes that are 50 years old, at least,” said Donnette Perkins, Costume Shop manager. “To stay within the budget and make things work we alter them for different shows. We’re using one frock coat in ‘Mary Poppins’ that’s over 100 years old.”

Assembling costumes that look authentic for the time period while maintaining functionality requires creativity, skill and thousands of hours of work. Costume creation started in July — nearly seven months before dress rehearsals. Scanlon called the costume makers as “artistic geniuses.”

"Mary Poppins" is playing in the de Jong Concert Hall now through Feb. 4. Tickets are available at byuarts.com or the BYU Ticket Office.

Writer: Alec Sears