POMPANO BEACH, Fla. - Box by box they arrived, the once glittering costumes of Broadway legends and theatre memorabilia, now dirty, tattered and forgotten. There were painstakingly hand-beaded bodices and garments worn by Julie Andrews, Carol Burnett and Vanessa Williams, each more unkempt than the next, stored on rusty hangars and covered in black soot.
It was to be one of the largest collections of Broadway costumes in the country. There were more than 500 boxes in all, newly purchased by Marilynn Wick to add to her multimillion dollar collection of costumes at Costume World which she rents to professional theatres and high school productions.
Wick and her daughter Kimberly surveyed the treasures they had just purchased at a 2005 auction: a Judy Garland hat, probably from her TV show; Ginger Roger's red sequin dress from "Hello Dolly;" Lou Diamond Phillip's exquisite jewel encrusted jacket costume from his Tony-winning role in the "The King and I;" and Nathan Lane's gangster suit from "Guys and Dolls."
They knew they had to share it. "We were going through boxes and I said, 'Kim, are we really going to rent Judy Garland's hat?" said 69-year-old Marilynn Wick.
The mother-daughter duo opened a museum in 2011, showcasing more than one million costumes from nearly 50 shows, guiding daily tours through a non-descript South Florida warehouse against a backdrop of hand painted sets and a marquee replica from storied Broadway theatres like the Winter Garden.
It took seamstresses months to restore the garments. One spent six months on Julie Andrew's ivory and gold beaded dress from "My Fair Lady."
Kimberly Wick, a seamstress with a flair for the dramatics, narrates the tour, wearing a flowing, peach gown from the musical "Titanic," charming the crowd with behind the scenes tidbits along the way.
There's the time Pearl Bailey was too tired for her multiple costume changes (several are on display) in "Hello Dolly" and asked the audience if she could perform in the same dress throughout the show. Eighteen thousand trim balls were hand sewn onto the silk costumes from the cast of "Once Upon a Mattress," including Sarah Jessica Parker's dress. (The Wicks no longer rent out costumes from that show because the delicate silk is now threadbare.) They even have the dress Parker wore in her role opposite husband Matthew Broderick in "How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."
The Wicks' own Julie Andrew's dress from the Broadway show of "My Fair Lady." They tried to buy the iconic black-and-white striped dress Audrey Hepburn wore in the film at an auction several years ago, estimating it would cost about $100,000. But it sold for more than $3 million, Kimberly Wick says. "My Fair Lady" is their most valuable collection: they even own the dress patterns.
All the costumes are displayed under the gleaming light from of the original chandelier from Tavern on the Green restaurant, of course.
"We were bidding against Donald Trump. He got six. We got one," Kimberly Wick said.
After the tour, the audience dons white gloves and paws through racks of costumes from "Pippin" to "The Producers."
The Wicks stumbled into the costume business accidentally. Kimberly Wick, then 12, and her sister were bored one muggy South Florida summer day in the 1980s so their housekeeper helped them sew a Santa costume. They stitched a few more, put an ad in the paper and were met with a steady stream of customers wanting to rent a suit for $25 a pop.
Their mother saw a business opportunity and opened up a storefront in South Florida where she made $250,000 the first Halloween. In 1990, she made a deal to provide all the clown costumes to the legendary Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.
The single mother said she fell in love with the theatre decades ago when she saw her first Broadway play at age 7. Little by little, she purchased costumes and Broadway trinkets from auctions. She now runs four costume stores around the country, a division that rents costumes to theatres and the museum.
"I figured out a way to make Broadway part of my everyday life," she said.
Once the Wicks obtain a show's wardrobe, they look at the historic value of the show and decide whether to restore it to display or whether it's more valuable to rent.
It costs up to $145 to rent a Broadway costume, but nearly half their business comes from much cheaper high school rentals — they handle about 50 productions a year. "The Producers," ''Guys and Dolls," ''The King and I" and "42nd Street" are currently in heavy rotation.
They also receive frequent phone calls from the White House press secretary and handle costumes for shows at army bases around the world, as well as national historic libraries.
For many of the shows, the Wicks own multiple sets: the original Broadway costumes, the Broadway revivals and two or three that their own wardrobe company has recreated to rent out for school productions.
The Wicks possess nearly 25 of Harold Hill's reversible band jacket from "The Music Man."
And yes, all 76 jackets, hats and trombones are in storage above the museum.
If You Go...
COSTUME WORLD: 2313 NW 30th Place, Pompano Beach, Fla., http://www.costumeworld.com/museum.php or 954-972-7929. Tour of Broadway collection by appointment, $20; other options with luncheon, entertainment and speaker seminar range up to $58.