by Kathleen Petty on September 5, 2022
In the McNay Art Museum’s Tobin Theatre Arts Gallery, it’s finally showtime.
After more than three years of work, Something Wicked | Susan Hilferty Costumes opened Sept. 8 and will remain on display through March 26, 2023.
“You can see all of these costumes taking shape as if they’re on people coming out on stage,” says R. Scott Blackshire, Ph.D., curator of the museum’s Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts.
Blackshire first pitched the idea for the exhibit three-and-a-half years ago when he met Hilferty’s then-assistant during a trip to New York. Hilferty is a longtime friend of the Tobin Theatre Arts Collection and agreed, working with her staff and the McNay’s to piece together an exhibit that includes costumes from Hilferty’s own personal collection as well as pieces loaned from the Wicked International Tour, the Metropolitan Opera and elsewhere.
“It was like putting on theater working with her,” Blackshire says.
The exhibition opens with the dresses worn by Glinda and Elphaba in Broadway’s Wicked, including Glinda’s signature blue bubble dress that is made with more than 100,000 sequins and is rarely loaned for public display.
Kim Neptune, assistant curator of the Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts, worked with museum staff and Hilferty, who visited San Antonio to finalize the exhibit, to carefully display each piece, fluffing the bubble dress just so and delicately bustling the burgundy gown created for Morrible in Wicked that’s on display nearby.
“Wicked is still so important to people,” says Neptune, who says the show was one that made her fall in love with costume design. “Guests will be able to relive the show just by seeing certain pieces.”
As part of the exhibition, guests can view the Tony Award that Hilferty won for Best Costume Design in Wicked alongside a coat she wore to the awards ceremony that was embroidered with the names of all of the people she worked with on the production.
In addition to the costumes, crowns, shoes and other items from Wicked, the exhibition features work from throughout Hilferty’s storied career. Visitors will see the Queen of Hearts’ dress from Wonderland, pieces made for the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Rigoletto, outfits from Broadway’s Wonderland and many others.
Behind the main exhibition, the McNay pays tribute to all of the makers who help turn Hilferty’s visions into reality and also provide a glimpse into the process of designing her costumes.
The back wall displays dozens of her sketches, while nearby guests can examine costumes that are still in process and are being designed for the 2024 premier of Aida.
Neptune says Hilferty is known for her ability to put makers—from seamstresses to leatherworkers to wig makers—to the test, believing that if she can push them to accomplish something new, there’s no limit to what she can design.
“This is very personal for her,” Neptune says, of the collection on display.