“The Cher Show” recreates Bob Mackie’s decades-long collaboration with Cher in two ways.
First, there’s the parade of Cher’s eye-popping looks, designed by Mackie for the show and ranging from her mohawk-topped Academy Awards outfit to her “If I Could Turn Back Time” black leotard.
And then there’s the appearance of Mackie himself as a character in the show.
While Mackie says the musical portrays him a “bit grander” than he is in real life — which he acknowledges as a necessity of the stage — several of the costumes were painstakingly recreated to be true to the originals.
Mackie, who received a Tony nomination for his costume design, spoke with Broadway News about the Cher archive and bringing his costumes to a Broadway stage.
Broadway News: How did you approach the costume design for the musical? Are they all based on actual Cher costumes?
Mackie: Not every one of them, but some of them are exact copies, the more iconic ones that people have seen printed over and over and over like her appearances at the Academy Awards. And there’s three or four that we had the real one there to copy exactly. I have access to her archive. We also had all the patterns. The actual dress patterns, all the beading patterns, which I always do myself, are there.
BN: What is Cher’s archive?
Mackie: It’s a lot of costumes that are just on shelves packed away carefully or hanging on racks of clothes. Some of them she has auctioned off over the years. But things like the Academy Awards things are very much there.
We keep it in my office for her. It’s all locked up, but we use it to refer to quite often. She’s had many, many stage shows and things where we want to revisit outfits. It wouldn’t be that she wore it again, but we want to see what she wore before and what it looked like. You can’t imagine how many “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” outfits there are in one room.
BN: Do you know how many costumes you’ve created for the show?
Mackie: People have said 400 costumes, some people have said 600. Some of the things are exactly what we had in Chicago, and a lot of it was rewritten a bit. I did new things and things got cut. I think I designed the show about three times. There were many different ways of looking at it. For a while, we were looking at the beginning like a fairy tale, we had a fairy godmother. The whole thing was very different.
BN: With the quick changes in the show, one of which lasts only 12 seconds for Stephanie J. Block, did you have to make any modifications to the clothing?
Mackie: We didn’t. We just have to be able to make it go on very quickly and very precisely because there’s nothing worse than a quick change where half of it’s hanging off and it’s on backwards. The crew backstage are choreographed as precisely as a dance number. Stephanie, at one point, is doing these quick changes and she’s got nine people; each one does a different job and the last one stands there with the Oscar in his hand.
BN: Did you have to use any special closures?
Mackie: We don’t use much Velcro anymore, because Velcro is dangerous, but magnets seem to be the choice closures these days. And they really work. Having done a lot of television and movies and even stage shows, most of the times the changes are really never quite that fast, but in this show they really are.