Saturday, 23 June 2012

Making the Costumes for Seussical the Musicals – Part 4 - the Birds

As promised, here are the Birds….  Oh, and I was wrong about it being shorter. Blame the tail!

Gertrude McFuzz is Horton’s next door neighbour. Although she is in love with Horton, he doesn’t notice her as he is too busy looking after the Whos. In the song The One Feathered Tail of Miss Gertrude McFuzz, Gertrude blames her pitiful little tail for not catching his eye. Dismayed, she comes across the flamboyant Mayzie LaBird who is accompanied by three beautiful Bird Girls; all decked out with feathers galore.  Amazing Mayzie describes how she once had a sad little tail like Gertrude but a visit to the doctor means she now has an amazing feathered tail. On Mayzie’s suggestion, Gertrude visits Doctor Dake by the Lake and persuades him to give her some pills so she can grow her own magnificent tail to become Amazing Gertrude. Encouraged by the first results, Gertrude takes even more pills and her tail becomes so enormous she can’t even fly………. 

Gertrude McFuzz was played by the amazingly talented Rebecca Hazel (Becki). I was in awe of Becki throughout all the rehearsals as she was always in character - a “drab but determined little bird” who adores Horton. Both her speaking and singing voice were perfect and she demonstrated fabulous facial expressions and body language to portray this little-girl-like bird who stood by Horton all the way when everyone else was against him.  

Rebecca Hazel as Gertrude McFuzz  (Copyright Peter Cook)

I wanted to make her a little-girl dress. Pretty but understated in comparison to the other characters.  I found a lovely vintage pale blue chiffon dress which fitted Becki perfectly. 

As it was full length and A-line, I took it up from the waist to create a short full skirted dress that came to well above her knees.
Becki is very slender, and I added a really full net petticoat to create a round bird figure that emphasised her fragile look.

Gertrude McFuzz  (Copyright Peter Cook)

Although mostly covered by the blue dress, flashes of the shocking pink petticoat gave a lovely splash of colour as she moved, and was brilliant when she had her feet-kicking tantrum lying on the floor (with the addition of a pair of last minute matching pink knickers!) 

While Gertrude’s dress was really easy to make - her tail was not! I needed to find a way of making a tail that would “grow” from a single feather to something amazing on stage. It also had to be lengthened for the second half and then finally be “plucked off “quickly on stage, revealing the original single feather.  I convinced the Directors it would be a doddle, but the more I saw of the staging during rehearsals, the more sleepless nights I got.  

Gertrude's One Feathered Tail  (Copyright Peter Cook)

With a bit of advice from my kids (who are great at seeing outside the box) I eventually came up with a workable solution that involved multiple tails that fastened to a belt around her waist and were worn in different variations for different scenes.

Gertrude starts off with a single tail - I used a really sad, slightly bent turkey feather, dyed yellow, which I attached to her belt with a piece of Velcro, making it removable.

Gertrude's Grows a Tail (Copyright Peter Cook)


When Gertrude visits the Doctor and takes the pills, we arranged the curtains so that I could rip off her single tail, and quickly knot a multi coloured feather boa into her belt - all the audience saw was Gertrude reacting to the sensation of feathers sprouting from her back. 

This first new tail was pretty Amazing! But Gertrude went back for more pills to make her tail grow MORE - luckily the scene finished off stage so the longer tail could be added back stage!

Gertrudes's bigger and longer tail was made from 20 different coloured feather boas stitched together, and stretched the length of the stage - she had to really work out her movements around stage when this was on!

The longer tail was designed to work with and without the first big tail, and fastened to her belt in a way that allowed it to be “plucked” off easily in a later scene, revealing the single feather, which had been re-attached towards the final scenes.

Gertrude's multicoloured tail (Copyright Peter Cook)
Confused?  I was! I kept trying to attach the wrong combination of tails at the wrong time and in the end, my 13 year old daughter took over and waited back stage between her scenes to help Becki out!

Lauren Carless as Mayzie LaBird (Copyright Peter Cook)

Mayzie LaBird - what a gorgeous, glamorous, sexy creature.  Think Latin! Think Salsa! Singing some really strong numbers, Lauren Carless, who played Mayzie, sashayed her way across the stage, flirted with the Cat, and used all of her feminine charms to persuade Horton to babysit her egg!

Her dress was created from a simple lycra diagonal-cut red salsa dress with a very low back, to which I added a silver and red lace overlay. 
Lauren is a great dancer, and the thick feather boa sewn to the hem added a lovely weight which emphasised her swaying movements.  

Mayzie’s tail had to be Amazing! I started with some red feather boas, similar to Gertrude’s. However, I didn’t think they were “sexy” enough, so I added some A Grade ostrich feathers just above the feather boas. I curled them using a set of hair straighteners (a tip I found on the internet) -and they sat beautifully on the curve of her back and Lauren loved it. Very salsa!   

Mayzie on the Nest (Copyright Peter Cook)

I wanted Mayzie to have a salsa or carnival style feathered head dress, but these were really expensive to buy or hire. While browsing the internet, I came across a shop selling coloured head dress frames and a YouTube “How to” video.
I ordered a red frame for Mayzie and three for the Bird Girls, together with a load of lower grade ostrich feathers. I was really impressed with how easy the instructions were to follow - the most difficult bit was keeping the glue away from the feather ends.  

Bird Girls (Copyright Peter Cook)

Mayzie has an entourage of beautiful Bird Girls, brilliantly played by Ellie, Laura and Jessica.

The Bird Girls needed to be showy, but not as Amazing as Mayzie! I thought I’d go for a Las Vegas Show Girl look, in bright colours that would stand out against the other colours I’d used for Jungle Animals. 

I made long sweeping tails from sparkly chiffon stiffened with netting, and sewed them to a trio of lycra leotards in pink, orange and lilac. Placing the tails low on the back created a very curvy shape which was emphasised by the elasticated sequin braid and feather boas. 

Song Birds(Copyright Peter Cook)

At the dress rehearsals, the girls were a bit nervous wearing such skimpy costumes, and I admit to having a few concerns myself. However by opening night, with the addition of shimmer tights, silver shoes, and striking make up, all misgivings had gone, and the Bird Girls were having a ball.  

Head dresses (Copyright Peter Cook)

The Bird Girls' head dresses were made in the same way as Mayzie’s, using feathers in the three colours. 

I was a bit worried that they might come off as the Birds danced around, but with strong coloured elastic secured under hair buns and lots and lots of hair grips, they didn’t move at all!  


So there we are. The story of five amazing, beautiful and very talented Birds.

Or were there six?

Kayed, who played our Cat in the Hat, loves to improvise, and on the opening night decided he wanted to join in one of the Bird Girls routines. Without telling the Directors, he persuaded one of the little Jungle animals to “lend” him her tutu as a skirt/tail. The audience loved it, but he got a major ticking off as he’d stretched the tutu! Undeterred, on the second night he borrowed a petticoat from one of the Adult WHOs but it looked a bit dull.

I took pity on him, and on the afternoon of the third and final performance, I found an old black net petticoat and added satin and fur trim to create red and white stripes to match his costume. As you can see, he absolutely loved it!

The Cat in the Hat joins the Bird Girls  (Copyright Peter Cook)

My next and final blog on Seussical Costumes will be introduce you to the rest of the animals from the Jungle of Nool, starting with some very mischievous monkeys, as well as a Very Important Person on the Planet of Who! There are a few stops on our way and if we get time, we'll also take a visit to the Circus. 

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.

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