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Les Misérables Costume Crew Creates Nearly 200 Garments for Summer Musical - Made from Scratch

Mattie Kelly Arts Center


These dresses will be among those worn by the lead characters during next month's production of Les Misérables at the Mattie Kelly Arts Center in Niceville.
These dresses will be among those worn by the lead characters during next month's production of Les Misérables at the Mattie Kelly Arts Center in Niceville.

6/11/2013 - The long, pink dress hangs snugly from the mannequin, more than a dozen yards of fabric recently transformed into a simple, cotton gown with the high waist and long, A-line skirt reminiscent of Europe’s Regency Period.

“As the years progress, the waist gets lower and the skirt gets fuller, so you sort of see that happening” through the course of the play, said Jennifer Boudette of Valparaiso, costume designer for the upcoming production of Les Misérables at the Mattie Kelly Arts Center at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville. The full-scale musical is set to run for a record seven nights, July 17 to 20 and July 25 to 27, on the mainstage of the college’s $25 million cultural arts venue.

Niceville resident Annie Melia, portraying Fantine, will wear the recently completed pink dress. However, with a 42-member cast requiring nearly 200 separate costumes during the three-hour play, the costume production and final fittings for Les Misérables will continue virtually up to opening night. During the next seven weeks, Boudette and her two assistants, Lillian Lewis of Niceville and NWFSC student Nate Beechum of Fort Walton Beach, will be sequestered in the costume shop, creating garments either from scratch – using an estimated 300 yards of fabric – or by reworking costumes from previous college productions.

Dubbed the “world’s most popular musical” and recently released as a major feature film, Les Misérables is based on an 1862 novel of the same name by Victor Hugo. Spanning two decades, from 1815 to the mid-1830s, it tells the story of Jean Valjean, a former convict who seeks love and redemption through a series of selfless deeds. Along the way, he comes into contact with a young mother, Fantine, her daughter, Cosette, a relentless lawman named Valjean and other characters whose stories are interwoven in a tale Boudette described as “operatic in scale.”

To help bring the massive college production to life, Boudette started researching early 19th-century attire in January, although work to recreate those fashions didn’t start until early May.

Since retiring from her federal civil service job in 1995, costume assistant Lillian Lewis has worked on costumes for several Mattie Kelly Arts Center productions, largely as a way to stay active in the community. But this is the first time she’s ever worked on period costumes, and she described her work on Les Misérables as a “wonderful education,” adding she recently completed her first-ever corset and chemise.

Drawing lines on a section of fabric, 22-year-old Nate Beechum’s favorite part of the costume process is learning how all the pieces work together. “You can cut fabric all day,” he said, “but it’s important to get the knowledge of each technique used in every garment.”

As the lead in the costume shop, Jennifer Boudette’s movements are quick and precise as she sews sections of fabric together, a diagram of Cosette’s dress lying on a nearby table. Designing clothes for a theatrical production may seem entirely fun and creative, but those whose life’s work involves breathing life into bolts of fabric “have to think with the mind of an engineer,” she noted. “There’s a lot of nuts and bolts to it. It’s one thing to come up with an idea, but you have to figure out how that’s going to translate and you have to figure out how to put that together.”

Though countless hours of work are going into designing the costumes, Boudette said most of the people in the show will be wearing “lower-class fashions” since the play depicts widespread poverty. The lower class “would have at least tried to copy as best they could what the fashion trends were with whatever pieces they had,” she said, adding with a laugh, “Which is actually kind of what we’re doing. We’re pulling together all these things that we have on hand.”

Tickets for the Northwest Florida State College production of Les Misérables are on sale now for $25 for adults and $20 for youth ages 18 and younger. Tickets may be purchased in-person, by phone or online from the Box Office at (850) 729-6000 or There is a $2 per ticket Box Office processing fee. Box office hours are 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday to Friday and 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. each night of the show, if any seats remain available. Currently enrolled NWFSC students may request one free ticket by showing a valid student ID in-person at the Box Office.

The seven-night run is the longest ever for a college summer musical and, due to the anticipated popularity of the show, advance ticket purchase is recommended. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. each night of Les Misérables.