I love a parade song as much as the next guy, but it might be time to rein in the lyrics. The inflation rate is out of control.
A mere “handful of vets” and “a line of cadets” in “I Love a Parade” (1931) were followed by 76 trombones and 110 cornets in “The Music Man” (1957). By the time Prince Ali marched across the big screen in “Aladdin” (1992), he arrived with 95 Persian monkeys, 75 golden camels, 53 purple peacocks, 60 elephants, “40 fakirs, his cooks, his bakers” and countless “birds that warble on key.”
It took at least as many Disney animators to keep up with the lyricists and Robin Williams’ big blue genie.
In the stage version, which opens Wednesday at the Des Moines Civic Center, much of the requisite magic comes from the costume designer, Gregg Barnes. When he told the props team they needed backstage pegs for 80 turbans, he had to clarify: There are 80 turbans just in Prince Ali’s parade. Three times as many show up throughout the whole show.
“The point is to make it look like an endless parade,” he says of Ali’s second-act opener, when 20 actors change costumes four times in three minutes. “I just love the energy of it.”
Barnes won two Tony Awards, for “The Drowsy Chaperone” in 2006 and “Follies” in 2012, and has designed costumes for shows as varied as “Something Rotten” and “Kinky Boots.” But in terms of sheer spectacle, he says, ” ‘Aladdin’ is certainly in the top three”―including his designs for the circus and the high-kicking Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
In all, the “Aladdin” cast wears 337 costumes that were based on 134 individual designs, some of which took Barnes six hours to sketch and paint. More than 340 people in 26 specialty shops (tailors, milliners, painters, etc.) used 2,039 materials and fabrics from China, England, France, Germany, Guatemala, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Tahiti, Turkey and Uzbekistan.One of Princess Jasmine’s dresses shimmers with 12 pounds of Swarovski crystal beads.
“When you add up all the hours, I wonder, ‘How did we do that?’ ” Barnes says.
During his research, he gathered ideas from various sources and tucked them into folders: Islamic architecture, Victorian Orientalist painting, Hollywood kitsch, “Dancing With the Stars,” belly dancing―even M.C. Hammer and his famous baggy pants.
He researched Persian rugs, too, but didn’t spill any secrets about the show’s magic carpet. He made that mistake once during a backstage tour on Broadway before an actor scolded him: “Are you crazy? What are you doing? The genie makes the carpet fly.”
Over the phone the other day from his apartment in New York, Barnes mentioned that he had designed the costumes for the new musical “Mean Girls,” whose cast performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
He loves a parade, too―at a distance. He watched it on TV.
“I’m not that brave to go out in the cold.”
“Aladdin” runs Nov. 28 through Dec. 9 at the Des Moines Civic Center. $40-$150; dmpa.org
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