Santa Claus' jacket is a rich red velour with delicate snowflakes that shimmer in the light, set off by an embroidered trim and capped with snow white fur.
The costume created for the actor playing Kris Kringle in Whitefish Theatre Co's production of the holiday classic “Miracle on 34th Street” was designed to have an “old world touch,” according to Sarah Bell, who designed the nearly 100 costumes for the show.
“We wanted the audience to believe he could be the real Santa Claus,” Sarah Bell said. “I wanted to tap into my own belief in magic and mythology and include that.”
Based on the beloved 1947 film with the same name, the Whitefish production of “Miracle on 34th Street” opens this week with the sneak preview on Thursday, and shows run through Dec. 17. The show tells the story of Kris Kringle, a gentleman with twinkling eyes and a snowy beard who is hired as a department store Santa and claims to be the real Santa Claus. He is put on trial for his claim.
Bell and her talented cast of dedicated seamstresses have worked for about six weeks to bring sketches of costumes to reality for the play. They were hard at work in the costume shop at the O'Shaughnessy Center last week as actors rehearsed just down the hall on stage.
The wardrobe and accessories for all 27 actors in the play has been planned down to the last detail.
Not only did the costume team ensure that Kris Kringle's red Santa suit was just right, when Kringle is seen in the play in every day clothing it wasn't forgotten who he is even then.
“We try to pay attention to the details,” Bell explained. “He's wearing an old fashioned suit, but he also has a green vest and we wanted there to be hints of Christmas in his clothing — he's really Santa all the time.”
Bell, who grew up in Bigfork and graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in costume design and technology, has worked on several plays in the Flathead Valley, but this is her first time designing costumes for a Whitefish Theatre Company production.
Last week Bell and her 13 volunteers were still making adjustments to costumes and fitting actors for shoes before the cast began dress rehearsals earlier this week. She says the last minute lengthening of a sleeve, shortening of a hemline and swapping out for a new hat are among the many changes that happen in those final days before opening night.
Most of the actors have multiple costume changes throughout the play. The costumes need to fit the actors correctly, but also must match the time period of the play and make sense for the different scenes, but there's also more to the clothing they'll wear.
“We look at color and how things move, but we're also thinking about that character's story,” Bell explains.
One such character is Susan, a little girl in the play who in the beginning is too pragmatic to believe in Santa Claus. However, as her belief changes so does her clothing — her dress at the beginning of the play is drab with mute colors, and then as she begins to believe in Santa her clothing changes until she is eventually wearing a bright red dress “full of Christmas spirit.”
“We want to make sure the costumes carry through the lines of the story,” Bell said. “We take that into consideration as they go from point A to point B, and how [the characters] transform is carried in a visual way to keep the audience with them in that journey.”
Tacked onto a bulletin board in the costume shop last week was a sketch of elf costumes showing boy and girl elves dressed with bright green and bold red. It's a satisfying feeling when an idea originally outlined in marker become reality in fabric, says Bell.
“Watching an elf kid prance down the hallway it's neat,” Bell said. “We want the costumes to give extra life to the character the actor is playing. It's nice to see it help them transform.”
The play opens with a sneak preview night on Dec. 7 at 7:30 p.m. Performances continue on Dec. 8, 9, 15, and 16 at 7:30 p.m., on Dec. 9 and 16 at 2 p.m., and on Dec. 10 and 17 at 4 p.m.
Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $10 for students with reserved seating. Tickets for the sneak preview performance on Dec. 7 are sold only at the door and are $12 for adults and $10 for students.
Tickets can be purchased at the Box Office, 1 Central Ave., Whitefish, or by calling 862-5371. Box office hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and one hour before performance times. Tickets can also be purchased online at www.whitefishtheatreco.org.