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The Music Man's Award-Winning Costumer Knows Just How to Dress the Part

Jaclyn Jermyn | July 2, 2019 | Lifestyle

An award-winning Chicago costume designer stitches together inspiration from myriad sources for an upcoming production of The Music Man.


From left: Marian Paroo's costume reflects her no-nonsense attitude; Mrs. Squires will chime in during the fan-favorite song “Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little”; Mrs. Dunlop's costume for the same song is a complementary lilac.

The Music Man, at its heart, is a classic Midwestern love story. That’s why, when costume designer Ana Kuzmanic sought inspiration for the new Goodman Theatre production, she looked close to home. “The big inspiration for this piece was the Iowa sky,” she says, “the expanse of it and the colors over small towns.”

That jumping-off point came from extensive research into historic images of Midwestern living in 1912 and the 1957 musical’s book and score, which tells the story of a scheming swindler who attempts to convince a small town that his forming a marching band will keep their children out of trouble.

But the real creative process, for her, starts on paper. Kuzmanic initially went to school for fashion, she says, but “I realized that it wasn’t specifically the clothes I was interested in. It was more about the people who wore the clothes.”

When the award-winning costume designer starts work on a new production, her preliminary sketches are more doodles than detailed renderings of skirts or hats, but each line gets her one step closer to a final, concrete concept of just who she is designing for. “Sometimes the lines really capture the idea of the character,” she explains. “A jagged line might be a character who’s really nervous.”

Clockwise from top left: Children’s costumes for the Act 2 pageant; The majestic Fourth of July dress designed for the mayor’s wife; a clever costume evokes one of the top Midwest crops for the Act 2 pageant.

While she sought to stay true to Edwardian-period fashions for the costumes (think what you saw in Titanic) for main characters like Harold Hill, the traveling con man with a heart of gold; and smart and sensitive Marian Paroo (known to fans of the classic tale as Madam Librarian), her favorite designs to work on will be seen in the Fourth of July pageant that takes place in Act 2. “I’m always excited when there is a play within a play,” she says. “We really discover what being theatrical means to these characters.” This is especially evident in the patriotic dress worn by the Eulalie Shinn, the wife of the city’s mayor. “I imagined that the ladies of the town pitched in to make this dress,” Kuzmanic says. The result is a beautiful gown, decorated in the colors of the American flag, that still retains a handmade quality.

The well-dressed members of the school board form an ideal barbershop quartet.

Kuzmanic, whose Jeff Award-winning work has brought her to Broadway multiple times for beloved shows like August: Osage County, Desire Under the Elms and Superior Donuts, has been collaborating with show director and Goodman Manilow Resident Director Mary Zimmerman for more than a decade. “Mary is one of my favorite collaborators and an incredible storyteller,” she says. “When we start working on a project together, she comes to the table with descriptions of these images she has painted in her head.”

These descriptions became the basis for The Music Man’s costume color palette, pulling from the hues of cornfields and, of course, that sweeping, endless Iowa sky. “I just tried to capture the beauty and simplicity of life,” she says. “Those colors of the sky made me so happy. I hope the audiences feel that when they watch this musical.”

July 8-Aug. 11, tickets $25-$142, 170 N. Dearborn St.,


Photography by: Ana Kuzmanic