Stage

Dressing Hedwig

ae hedwig1Two Santa Cruz teenage friends reunite under the bright lights of Broadway 

When Arianne Phillips and Valerie Marcus Ramshur were teenage friends in Santa Cruz, they spent their days cutting and re-sewing clothing bought from weekend trips to the Bargain Barn. Now, 30 years later, the duo is still designing clothes, but their skills are on display on a much larger stage—Broadway.

As the costume designer and associate costume designer, respectively, for Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Phillips and Marcus Ramshur are taking the style notes they gleaned from the early ’80s Santa Cruz New Wave scene and using them to bring to life the story of a transsexual punk rocker from East Berlin who flees to the United States in search of stardom. Neil Patrick Harris will play Hedwig in the stage adaptation of the cult classic book by John Cameron Mitchell, which opens April 22 on Broadway.

For Phillips and Marcus Ramshur, growing up in Santa Cruz proved to be highly appropriate training for this production. “The message of Hedwig is the same as the lifestyle that Santa Cruz really encourages, which is be yourself,” says Phillips.

“People come to Santa Cruz to find who they are as human beings and artists and citizens of the world, and this piece is very much like that as well,” adds Marcus Ramshur.

Phillips attended Santa Cruz High while Marcus Ramshur was a student at Capitola Junior High. After high school, they went their separate ways, both independently pursuing career paths in the realm of theater, film, fashion and music.

Marcus Ramshur has worked on more than 12 Broadway productions, and Phillips’ resume includes two Academy Awards nominations, a British Academy of Film and Television award, and a 17-year collaboration with Madonna.

Phillips, who worked on the film version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch in 2001, was asked to reprise her role as costume designer for the Broadway premiere. It had been 30 years since Phillips and Marcus Ramshur were in the same room together, but they reconnected when Phillips reached out via social media.

“When I got the call, the first person I thought of was Valerie,” Phillips explains. “I’ve never worked on a Broadway production, which has its own process and protocol. It was clear I was going to need someone to help shepherd me though the process as well as someone to rely on to get the show up and running. To have the opportunity to reunite with her after 30 years and as professional adults was super exciting.”

Since that call, Marcus Ramshur and Phillips have rekindled their friendship as professionals, working together to create visual magic onstage.

Though they are based on separate coasts, the Santa Cruz ties remain strong. Both maintain they couldn’t have gotten to Broadway without the creative nurturing they got from Santa Cruz. “Growing up in Santa Cruz as kids we were allowed and encouraged to be as creative and unique as possible. We got shot out into the world and we realized we had been exposed to art, artists and free-thinking political debate,” says Phillips.

“Hedwig is just a very magical piece,” says Marcus Ramshur, “and Santa Cruz was a very magical place to grow up.” 

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