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Shelf to stage: Vintage Hollywood costumes come alive in alumnus’ musical

Alumnus Greg Schreiner began collecting costumes in the early ’80s, acquiring pieces such as a sparkly gown worn by Ginger Rogers and a suit worn by Fred Astaire. He will showcase some of the costumes in his show, “Hollywood Revisited: A Glamorous Musical Theater Extravaganza.” (Michael Zshornack/Photo editor)

By Katelyn Olsen

Feb. 21, 2018 11:33 p.m.

Almost 500 vintage Hollywood costumes decorate Greg Schreiner’s house.

The UCLA alumnus will showcase his collection for his musical, “Hollywood Revisited: A Glamorous Musical Theater Extravaganza,” in Palm Springs on Thursday as part of the city’s annual Modernism Week. He serves as the producer, narrator and pianist of the 30-year-old show, which will feature musical numbers from Hollywood movies of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s in its current run, sung by performers wearing the original costumes from the films, Schreiner said.

As president of the Marilyn Remembered fan club, Schreiner began collecting the actress’ costumes back in the early ’80s while studying piano performance at UCLA. However, when Monroe’s costumes started increasing in value, he began acquiring costumes worn by other Hollywood stars, including a traditional tuxedo with a white bow tie worn by Fred Astaire and a wide-sleeved sparkly gown with a fur-trimmed neckline worn by Ginger Rogers.

He found the costumes at auction houses and thrift stores – most studios discard their wardrobes after finishing their films. But when Schreiner realized he had collected nearly 500 costumes from the ’30s to ’60s, he decided to present them to the public in the form of a musical performance.

“I wondered if people would be interested in reliving what I call the golden age of Hollywood,” Schreiner said. “The studio system was running everything and they had all these really major stars that they were promoting.”

Performer Jill Burke will open the show wearing Liza Minelli’s red dress from “New York, New York,” while the director and choreographer Joshua Finkel will sing in a “Three Musketeers” costume originally worn by Gene Kelly. The company has prepared more than eight hours of performance, so they can alter the show depending on the venue and event.

Schreiner also features the original music from the costume’s film when possible, but if the costume is not from a musical, he finds a song that evokes the musical style of the era instead. For example, performer Elisa Surmont will don an off-the-shoulder Bette Davis gown from the movie “All About Eve” and perform a song from the musical “Applause,” which was based on the film.

In the movie, Davis put her hands into the pockets of the gown. So Surmont uses a similar movement in the choreography, Burke said. The performance will also highlight the chocolate brown color of the gown since the film was originally shown in black and white.

Before each number, Schreiner or one of the cast members presents an introduction, which includes anecdotes about the film, star or costume and why it was designed a certain way. The introduction for the Bette Davis gown explains how the costume was originally made for Claudette Colbert, but because of an injury, Davis ended up in the role. The dress didn’t fit on Davis and kept falling off her shoulders, but she loved the way it looked and wore the gown off the shoulder in the film.

Burke said they do not alter the costumes because they are old and delicate. Many of them have small hook-and-eye fasteners as the original actors had more time to change in and out of the costumes between movie scenes. However, for the live show, the performers only have two to four minutes to change costumes.

“I always say the real show is backstage because we have to change for every single time we come out so it can be a bit of a madhouse,” Burke said. “There’s no lounging around, it’s just hustle.”

To direct and choreograph the numbers, Finkel said he researched each star and studied some of the iconic ways in which they moved. Finkel watched several Marilyn Monroe numbers in films such as “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” and “Niagara” to observe Monroe’s iconic body, hand and mouth movements.

“We try as close as we can to tie the costume or the moment to the song choice, so it really feels like it comes alive,” Finkel said.

At the end of the show, the performers go out into the lobby in their final costumes, so audience members can see the attire up close and feel the material. Though they may have also seen some of the costumes in museums, Schreiner said “Hollywood Revisited” offers the public a chance to see them brought to life.

“The costumes were made to be worn on living people moving, and if people are not moving, the costumes are not coming alive the way that the costume designer intended them to do it,” Schreiner said.

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Katelyn Olsen
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