in the United States, with nearly 60 original Broadway wardrobes.
Photos by Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Ron Hayes
One December day in the early 1970s, Santa Claus brought an unexpected and very durable present to a family in Boca Raton.
A woman named Marilynn Wick was chatting with a friend named Leah Davidson, who had a slight holiday problem. Her husband needed a Santa suit for his IBM Christmas party.
“I can make a Santa suit,” Wick told her friend, and then she enlisted help from her two daughters, Kelly and Kimberly. And the three Wicks set to work around their kitchen table.
The Santa suit was a success, and Wick got requests for four more, then Easter bunny suits, then panda costumes. In 1976, she incorporated her costume creations as a business, and Jan McArt’s Royal Palm Dinner Theatre became an early account. The Wicks made costumes, sold costumes, rented costumes for private parties and national theater companies.
Eventually, Marilynn Wick began collecting entire wardrobes from classic Broadway shows, and today that first Santa suit has grown into a thriving business with more than a million costumes housed in 100,000 square feet of South Florida storage space and Costume World retail stores in Deerfield Beach, Dallas and Pittsburgh.
What else do you do with so many costumes? You put them to work by opening a theater, and then you display them in an adjacent museum.
In September 2013, the Wick Theatre debuted in the former Caldwell Theatre on North Federal Highway in Boca Raton. The first production was The Sound of Music.
Two months later, the Wick Costume Museum opened to share with the public original costumes from more than 35 Broadway shows, and 40 years after those first Santa suits, Kimberly Wick, the 12-year-old girl who helped sew them, is the vice president, head designer, curator and occasional docent of the museum.
“We’re the largest theatrical holder of wardrobes in the United States, with nearly 60 original Broadway wardrobes,” Kimberly Wick began, slightly distracted one September afternoon — and rightly so.
All around the expansive display space behind the theater’s stage, assistants at sewing machines were making repairs to costumes decades old while others ironed and more than 150 mannequins, some half dressed, looked on in dignified silence.
In less than two weeks, the museum’s 2016-17 exhibit, “Where Runway Meets Broadway,” would debut on Sept. 23 with a gala luncheon and Champagne reception.
“What’s unique this season,” Wick explained, “is that we’re sharing with our guests the vintage costumes, along with the Broadway costumes that were inspired by those eras.”
Visitors will see the actual costumes worn in productions of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, Hairspray and Cats, supplemented by fashions of the period.
For example, Cats, which first purred in a Broadway theater on Oct. 7, 1982, made animal prints popular for a time, Wick said.
“We own collections from three Broadway productions of Cats,” she added. “The cat suits have to be rebuilt often because they get so abused. There’s lots of wear and tear.”
Marian the Librarian’s gown from The Music Man. Ginger Rogers’ Hello, Dolly gown. A gown from a Broadway production of Anna Karenina. Each is on display, along with other vintage fashions.
“I’d love to own the wardrobe of the original Les Miserables,” Wick said. “But we do have Cosette’s wedding gown from one of the productions.”
The entire lobby has been dedicated to costumes from the original, 1956 production of My Fair Lady, including the gown Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle wore to the embassy ball.
“We own the entire production,” Wick said. “It’s one of our prized items.”
And as an added treat to round out this year’s “runway” theme, the Wick recently bought the gowns worn by Joan Rivers while she hosted Hollywood’s red carpet awards shows.
Now that this year’s costume exhibit has opened, the theater is preparing for the Oct. 13 opening of They’re Playing Our Song, the Neil Simon musical comedy starring Andrea McArdle, Broadway’s original title character in Annie.
And then comes Halloween, which must surely be any costume company’s busiest time of year, right?
Not so much, Wick says.
The Deerfield Beach store is stocked with as many varied, scary Halloween costumes as anyone could want to rent or own, but it’s not the busiest period.
“Now it’s the Easter period,” Wick said. “We ship between 1,200 and 1,500 costumes a week around Easter because that’s when all the high schools around the country do their spring musicals.”