‘Wicked’ wardrobe

McNay exhibits costumes by Tony Award-winning designer Susan Hilferty

Madison Peters, Copyediting Coordinator

Featuring costumes from the infamous “Wicked” musical, the “Something Wicked | Susan Hilferty Costumes” exhibit at the McNay Art Museum offers musical theater fans an up-close look at the intricate costumes and the details within them that may not be visible from the front row. 

Hilferty also provided a sneak peek at a costume that has yet to hit the stage. The corner of the exhibit is dedicated to the Metropolitan Opera production of “Aida,” which was delayed due to the pandemic, but is set to debut in 2024. 

Towards the front of the exhibit lies a long black coat that Hilferty designed for herself to wear to the 2004 Tony Awards. The coat carried metallic embroidered signatures of everyone that helped Hilferty bring her “Wicked” visions to life.

The Tobin Theatre Arts and Brown galleries display front and center costumes from one of Hilferty’s best-known contributions, “Wicked.” The cherished musical was adapted from author Gregory Maguire’s 1995 rendition of “The Wizard of Oz.” The book follows Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, and her friendship with a classmate, Glinda the Good. 

Displayed in the middle of the exhibit is the musical’s most iconic dress: Elphaba’s figure-fitting black gown with a sleek black hat. Olga Maya, the graphic designer who helped create the logo for the exhibit explained that this costume has been the most popular among museum attendees. 

“A lot of people react to the Elphaba dress because when you watch the musical, you don’t get to see them this up close and there’s so much color in that dress,” Maya stated. 

From the audience of the theater, the dress may appear to be a simple black dress, but upon closer inspection, the dress contains shades of purples, blues and copper. 

“Susan mentioned that she took inspiration from coal, and when you bring it up deep from the ground and crack it open, it’s almost multi-colored,” Maya explained. 

Another iconic costume from the musical is the baby blue ball gown that Glinda wears when she makes her first entrance, floating inside a clear bubble. While Glinda and the dress were seemingly floating on stage, in actuality, the dress is quite heavy — weighing about 16 pounds. Beneath the dress were several petticoats that helped give the dress the distinctive bell shape. Also, within the waistband is a sewn-in harness, to help the actress playing Glinda safely stay inside the bubble. 

Throughout the exhibit, there are sketches and prototypes that go into every single one of Hilferty’s works. These costumes include those of the Emerald City residents in “Wicked,” those designed for the production of “Fully Charged” by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus® and stunning embroidery for the current revival of “Funny Girl.”

Although most cannot see the complex designs from any seat in the theater, Maya explains that every detail is important. “It’s all part of her world-building, adding all those details to just tell the story through her designs,” Maya states. 

“Something Wicked | Susan Hilferty Costumes” will be displayed until Mar. 23 at the McNay Art Museum, 6000 N. New Braunfels. Student discounts on tickets are provided with a valid student ID.