The Hill-Stead Museum is displaying 18 different Broadway-style costumes, on loan from the Goodspeed Opera House, in its latest special exhibit.
The costumes were all used in Goodspeed revivalist productions of musicals that debuted during the lifetime of the house's architect and last resident, Theodate Pope Riddle, and her family.
"The time period is the real connection to the museum," said museum curator Melanie Bourbeau. "It's early 1900s through the mid 1940s."
Bourbeau said the Pope family was interested in operas and they believe its likely that interested would carry over into musicals and stage plays. Riddle mentions seeing plays on a European tour the family took from 1888 to 1889 in one of the diaries the museum has.
"We have just come in from the theatre," Riddle wrote in her diary. "I hope I shall never forget what a grand performance it was."
Bourbeau said that because the family was always back and forth to New York, that there's no way they couldn't have been aware of musicals.
"We don't have any Broadway programs they saved, but they were in New York so often that they couldn't have not been aware," Bourbeau said. "For as artistically astute and culturally aware as they were, they had to have known about these shows. Whether they went or not, they were certainly aware."
The costumes, which come from a variety of different Goodspeed shows, fill rooms of the Hill-Stead in ways furniture doesn't. Bourbeau said because the costumes, particularly the dresses, are reminiscent of something the Popes or their guests might wear, it fits perfectly.
"It fits very well within the look of this house," Bourbeau said. "It's kind of as if people are here wearing these clothes. The costumes look perfect in the house because they are the right time period for the house."
Guests who take the special tour between now and Jan. 1, which is offered separately from the regular tour, will have the opportunity to see costumes from shows like Kiss Me, Kate, Show Boat, Anything Goes, and Carousel. There will also be related items from the Yale Music Library on display.
Bourbeau hopes that this exhibit gives guests a reason to come back to the Hill-Stead, or make their first visit. The tour will also take guests behind the ropes and to parts of the house that the regular tour doesn't typically take you on. Certain rooms will also have music related to the shows playing, which will add a different feel to the usually silent museum rooms.
"There are multiple reasons to keep coming back to the Hill-Stead," Bourbeau said. "It's all grounded in what happened here, what this family did, and what they liked - and then jumping off from that."
In addition, the museum will offer a play area for children where they can dress up in costumes like the ones visible on the tour. For adults, there are three evenings scheduled, on Sept. 29, Oct. 17, and Nov. 3, called L'Affaire Musicale, where selections from early Broadway shows will happen in the house. Tickets can be purchased online at hillstead.org.
The costume tours will be offered during three time slots on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. A full schedule for tours can be found online at hillstead.org/page-to-stage. The museum suggests buying tickets in advance, as tour space is limited. The staff will accept walk-ins when space is available on a tour.