Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Making of Costumes for Seussical the Musical - Part 3 - The Whos

Part 3 of the story of making the costumes for Seussical the Musical starts off with the Whos from Whoville. Dr Seuss’s original books show these as little furry creatures with strange hairdos and pointy up noses, although recent animation and films have depicted them as people, often wearing 1950s style clothing – which influenced my designs. 

In Seussical, The Cat uses his imagination to zoom in on the tiny speck of dust that turns out to be The Planet of Who.  In the song Here on Who, Mr and Mrs Mayor and the rest of the Whos describe their lives and their tiny town, and sing about an imminent War and the gusts of wind that blow the dust speck around.  They beg Horton to help protect them and their very small and fragile planet, and Horton promises to do so, saying “A persons a person, no matter how small”. 

And of course, I can’t forget Jo-Jo, the Mayor’s son – whose imagination and escapades with The Cat get him into lots of trouble before he emerges as the hero and save the day – but more of that later.  Egged on by The Cat, Jo-Jo imagines Fish swimming in McElligot's Pool when he is taking a bath - It's Possible.  When Jo-Jos latest “thinks” flood the house, his parent’s patience is broken and Jo-Jo is sent to The Military – an academy for difficult boys run by General Genghis Khan Schmitz. 

Mr Mayor and the Whos from Whoville (Copyright Peter Cook)

Louise Ryan, our Musical Director wanted bright primary colours for our Whos,  so I bought metres and metres of red, blue and yellow lycra and show satin to make 1950’s styles full circle skirts for the “girl” Whos. Very simple to make and elasticated waists meant I didn’t need to do lots of time consuming fittings.  The tops were based on lycra leotards (again easy fit), with added jackets or cardigans for the older girls.  

Mr & Mrs Mayor (Copyright Peter Cook)
Mrs Mayor was played by the lovely Libby Rogers.  I wanted Mrs Mayor to be more “grown up“ than the other adult Whos – a combination of mumsy and 1950’s formal. I tracked down a lovely red tailored Karen Millen jacket which looked gorgeous on Libby, but although it was a cheap second hand buy and had a couple of marks on it, I did feel a bit bad adapting it for a costume!  Libby added a lovely flower to a bun in her hair – perfect.

Mr Mayor needed to look formal as well – I sourced a great Boating style blue jacket with red and white stripes and teamed it with an old  yellow rugby shirt and cheap working men’s canvas trousers in bright red. Rhodri Denton, who played the Mayor was delighted that his outfit wasn’t lycra or satin, but wasn’t too impressed with the straw boater I added as a final touch – fair play, he wore it and it looked great.

Twirly  Skirts & Stripy Tights
For the Whos, I wanted every costume to be slightly different, had great fun adding bindings, frills and flounces in different colours and styles and I found some brilliant big buttons with polka dots and stripes.  As I finished each costume, I hung it off the picture rail in my hall, and I used to love walking past and seeing the gorgeous colour combinations. These costumes were cute, especially when I added some coloured and stripy tights to the mix.

Being very lazy, I didn’t measure many of the cast – I relied on the forgiving nature of lycra and elastic. I gave the teenage girls playing Adult WhosMari, Sophie, Libby, Laura, Alex and Chloe - a batch of elasticated waist satin circle skirts, lycra leotards and trimmed jackets in different sizes. They spent a very giggly half hour swopping round to get the best fit and colour combinations – thanks girls.
Here on Who  (Copyright Peter Cook
Boys from Who

Sophie, Nia, Sally, Ellie, Celyn, Lottie and Maddy who played the little Who Girls, pounced on their full circle skirts at rehearsals and kept twirling round and got so dizzy that they nearly fell over! Directors not happy with me!

Many of the Whos had bought their own primary coloured shoes, but for others I dyed some old satin and canvas ballet shoes (I did this for a lot of the Jungle Animals too). I didn’t have enough time to paint each pair individually, so I soaked them in batches of different colour dyes using a solution made from powdered fabric dyes. It was nearly a disaster when some of the inner soles came apart as the glue dissolved – but luckily the shoes themselves stayed intact and could still be worn.  Whew! 

We had two Boy Whos, Declan and my son Ioan.  I made their costumes from lycra for easy changes and chose colour combinations that contrasted nicely with Mr Mayor.

Not surprisingly, both boys turned their noses up at standard jazz trousers which tend to have a bootleg flare but they did consent to wearing a straight leg style with pleated fronts and lycra shirts with 1950s collars and big buttons.  

Jo Jo in the bath tub (Copyright Peter Cook)
Jo Jo was played by Daniel Williams and this is the only outfit I didn’t touch at all - a friend of Daniel’s mum did his, and she did a fantastic job in recreating the  perfect look for our troubled teenage boy. Check out his top – each of the blue bands was individually sewn on to a white t-shirt get the right width stripes. Brilliant!
Some of the younger Whos and Jungle Animals had a number of roles in the show with very quick side of stage changes.  This first happened with the fish in McElligot's Pool. The choreographers, Natasha and Chloe Evans, had created a lovely flowing dance for this song and we needed costumes that worked with this. However, we didn’t have the facilities (or time) for complete costume changes so I needed to have base costumes that could be very quickly “adapted” into other roles. The simplest solution was to create flowing outfits in stretchy lycra that they could just pop over the kids heads. However, I was working with girl and boy Whos in primary colours and some Jungles in gold and peach!  I decided that each fish would fantastical rather than realistic, in different styles and colours that went well with their main costumes.   The girls all had floaty “dresses” in pinks, oranges, yellows and blues, depicting a jellyfish with mesh streamers, a silvery blue tropical fish, a winged angel fish and an anemone with scalloped edges. I kept the boys in primary colours, using a psychedelic swirly lycra to create a vivid flatfish and a foiled lycra for a shark  with pointy fins on its back.   I’m still trying to track down a photo – they must have swam too fast for the photographer!

The General introduces Jo Jo to the Military Academy
General Genghis Khan Schmitz was played by Joe Williams.  I bought an authentic army jacket off eBay and added lots of glitzy braid and tassels. I was going to use some of my great grandfather’s Boer war medals, but these were very heavy and I was concerned they may fall off and get lost. I did use some of his lighter “medals” though, that he had been awarded for long service to the National Savings Scheme!!!  

Cadets in The Military (Copyright Peter Cook)

The Cadet costumes were simple – these were Who kids who had been sent to “Military School” so we just added khaki green t-shirts with Schmitz printed in gold. 

(Note the plastic swords were issued to each cadet as they marched onto stage – to prevent the older cast members stealing them to play-fight in the wings!) 

Gosh – this has been a long blog - next time I’ll be having a visit from the Birds which I promise will be shorter!

(For those of you with younger Seuss fans (or those who are just young at heart) I’ve found this fab Dr Seuss website with games and activities)

The Old Button is more than happy for you to use these costume ideas as inspiration for your own production. 
Pinning through Pinterest is fine as long as you credit The Old Button but please respect the copyright of the photos, and do not reproduce in other forms without permission. 


  1. How wonderful! We went to see this show when my daughter's senior school performed it the year before she started at the school - it was superb. Your costumes are fantastic, thank you for taking us through them.

  2. Thank you Doodlebags for your lovely comment. Seussical is a fab show isn't it - I hope lots more schools and drama groups do it.

  3. I have an email notifaction about a comment from Holly looking for Who costume ideas - but when I logged in, I couldn't see anything. Holly - if you are still wanting ideas, why not message me at The Old Button on Facebook.

  4. Oh, cool! I'm in a production of Seussical now! I'm a bird girl! These costumes are very cool! ��

  5. ekau6459 - thanks so much for commenting and glad you like my costume ideas. The Bird Girls are a fabulous fun part - I'm sure you'll love playing one of them.