Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 8th 2015 Contents 5
Friday May 8, 2015 • Issue 178
For Ronald Guy-James, Costume Designer
of Mahalia: A Gospel Musical, the costuming
for this period play needed to reflect the vi-
sual style of the production, help the actors
portray their characters and replicate fashion
over the entire life of the gospel legend.
"In October I will be 59 years old - I know Ma-
halia," he laughed. "I've never met her, but I
know her through her music and coming from
the period, I wear it well!" he joked.
Mahalia: A Gospel Musical will be his fourth
collaboration with the team behind JCS Enter-
tainment, the production company.
"I was happy when I heard that Mahalia was
being done because I remember the music and I
felt this was nice to do. To my lay-ear when I at-
tended rehearsals with the full cast recently, I
said, wow - they sounding really good!"
Guy-James has been involved in fashion de-
sign for over 30 years. After returning to
Trinidad 16 years ago from Holland he worked
successive years with Peter Minshall as his pro-
totype artist in Carnival and costume design
until Minshall stopped making mas in 2004.
His first production with the team behind JCS
Entertainment came in 2013 with 'The King and
I'. He has been working with the team ever
"The script for Mahalia came with directions,"
revealed Guy-James. "They want you to try and
keep it as original as possible but there was
some leeway. It is a period piece so it must be of
the time - from her youth in the 1920's to
1970's when she died. The fashion has to tran-
scend through the decades."
Guy-James revealed that a lot of his research
for the costume designing was based in looking
at photographs from the time of Jackson's life.
"Before, we relied on books and we would
borrow, beg and steal, but it's a lot easier now
with the Internet. (The Jackson's) weren't rich
at the time. In her early years in the 1920's they
were poor. Being poor in 1920 means that what
they were wearing was probably already ten
years old. You don't look at the high fashion of
the time because they would have been in
hand-me-downs and generally last season's
Costume sources for the Mahalia Musical
production included Goodwill, a few new pur-
chases and also pieces specifically made by
Guy-James. All of the costumes for the lead ac-
tors were made 'from scratch'.
"What we can't find, we'll have to make. T&T,
please continue to take your pieces to Good-
will!" he enthused and also expressed sincere
thanks to Meryl Mahabir who assisted with the
Goodwill clothing scouting.
When asked about his understanding of Jack-
son's style, he agreed that the success of her
career was evident in the way her choice of
wardrobe changed over her life.
"As Gospel took Mahalia Jackson into the
lime light, so too did she rise out of poverty
with her earnings through music. This elevation
in affluence was reflected in the way she
dressed and pieces she wore."
According to Guy-James, signature acces-
sories that were quintessential pieces incorpo-
rated later in Jackson's career included fur
stoles and jackets, always with a high neckline
and a modest collar.
"Her hair for example, she kept a particular
kind of upsweep. It changed slightly but more or
less it was variations of the same theme. Her
style of dress was also the same. However, you
did see an improvement in the look of the mate-
rials, with subtle added adornments when the
money started coming in. Although the look
was the same kind there were obviously better
fabrics, but it was never over-the-top."
As costume director he is responsible for all
the elements, shoes, bags, accessories; from
neckties to sunglasses to socks.
"I also supervise hair. We have a person ap-
proved by me who does wigs, to make sure the
look is complete. Her name is Kimmy Stoute-
Also working with the production is Amanda
Bugros as the production's official makeup
He went on to describe his attempt to cap-
ture a sepia-tinted clothing-scape in order to
replicate an aged picture, as if one was looking
at the play through a vintage photograph frame.
"I'm using some blacks and browns with a lit-
tle bit of purple and orange. We're very close to
the perfect palette in terms of the look of the
cast clothing. We're looking for that feel
of...'you've seen this before', on a wall some-
where. We want to get a nice warm nostalgic
Guy-James shared some interesting costume
preparation secrets, such as one quick and easy
fabric aging technique. For the men of the cho-
rus, brand new white shirts were used. How-
ever, to achieve the aged look they were thrown
in the washing machine along with a cup of
strong tea, in order to stain them to give it an
even 'it's been washed a few times' tone.
For other pieces, Guy-James was absolutely
delighted to stick to the costuming directions of
"Martin Luther King's suit would be a new
one, or a worn suit, but not an old suit. He would
have been on the trail campaigning for civil
rights for months and had maybe had about
four or five great suits. He was making public
appearances, he would have been dressing for
"You can't just put any old thing on the stage.
Never assume that 'no one will notice'. There
would be the few - even if it's one person who
knows what it should be, and I want that person
to say, ah yes, that's accurate and correct."
Mahalia: A Gospel Musical, May 7th to 10th,
The Little Carib Theatre, Woodbrook.
For more information visit 'Feature Production'
page on our website: www.jcsentertains.com or
contact JCS Entertainment: 461-4033 or email us
Actor Conrad Parris shows off the inner jacket
lining and waist coat of one of the suits tailored
for the role of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
(from left to right) First try-ons for Conrad Parris as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,
Llettesha Sylvester as adult Mahalia Jackson, and Kearn Samuel as Organist,
Francis from the Mahalia Musical by JCS Entertainment.
A closer look at the vintage 70's
bag accessory for the Mahalia
The tailored jacket, with white
blouse and skirt for the Mahalia
Actor Conrad Parris models one of the suits
tailored for the role of Dr. Martin Luther King
Jr. at the first dress rehearsal.
A closer look at the wide lapel jacket
accompanying this Mahalia Jackson
Actor Kearn Samuel models the
crisp white shirt, trousers and
bow tie of Organist and musical
companion to Mahalia Jackson,
Lead actress Llettesha Jackson in
one of the costumes for the role
of adult Mahalia Jackson.
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