Staging Magic

Designers picked through thousands of swatches to find the Italian lace for this gown worn by actress Jeanna de Waal, who plays Mary Barrie in Finding Neverland.
Suttirat Larlarb

Finding Neverland

American Repertory Theater
Through September 28th

In designing 106 costumes from scratch for the musical Finding Neverland, Suttirat Larlarb was challenged to depict Edwardian-era history with a fresh visual edge—and convey the explosive magic of the imagination. “You don’t want a museum piece set to music,” notes Larlarb, who was educated at Stanford and Yale. She has worked on numerous films (e.g., Slumdog Millionaire and Trance), and co-designed the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony: recall the splendid “white-dove” cyclists? The ART’s world-premiere musical, based on the 2004 movie, has its own wings (for bumblebees), dancing servants, dogs, one mermaid, and a crew of sexy pirates. All contribute to the play’s modern meditation on the roots of creativity and the nature of youth, as evidenced in J.M. Barrie’s relationship with the Llewelyn Davies family as he conjures up Peter Pan. Backed by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, Neverland is a sumptuous production that is likely headed to London or Broadway. Like the fantastical sets, Larlarb’s creations intensify the drama. Barrie’s society-minded wife, Mary, strides around in a silky, lace dress with a proper high neck, curve-loving bodice, and layers of ruffles too stiff to shimmy when she walks. (It was inspired by a 1901 dress at the Kyoto Costume Institute and a more recent design in Vogue Italia.)Even Mary’s satin evening gown is an “urban,” orderly, navy blue, Larlarb says, whereas her husband’s muse, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, is a softer creature first seen playing in a park with her boys. She wears drapey, gauzy blouses and long skirts of pale oranges, pinks, and lavender—just “the right degree of bohemian hyperfemininity,” says Larlarb—and a peach-toned frock with an airy, flowery print at dinner. No matter how beautiful, the designer adds, costumes should not be signature artistic “concepts,” a word she dislikes. Instead, “they serve a larger ambition—the intended journey of the play.”

Read more articles by Nell Porter-Brown

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