Dressing Ms. Darbus: High School Musical


Ms. Darbus was the character that I most enjoyed dressing in “High School Musical”.   I really think the sky is the limit in terms of her wackiness and eccentricity.  That said, it is important that she incorporates into the onstage “pictures” and that the costumer try to find some unifying themes to tie her look together.  In a way, she can be challenging because there are SO many different ways you can go with her and it can be difficult to narrow down the choices.  There also is a fine line between eccentric and frumpy.  Ms. Darbus takes a journey during the show as she moves through her relationship with her students, Coach Bolton, and her place in the school, and I thought it was important she wear the Wildcat red & white for the finale.

Ms. Darbus is described as entering her classroom “with a grand flourish” (p. 9).  “She is eccentric, to say the least, but her eccentricity is fueled by a genuine love of theatre and of teaching” (p. 9).  Many of her stage directions give her a sense of drama . . she “whirls” and suddenly becomes “Cerberus, the snarling, three-headed watchdog of Hades” (p. 11).  Throughout the show, despite her bravado, she shows moments of vulnerability, warmth, and a deep interest in helping her students grow.

Ms. Darbus has two quick changes.  One comes between Monday and Tuesday.  She has the last line of #16, which is the Detention scene on Monday.  Then there is a brief transition with an announcement from Jack Scott (three sentences) and then Scene 7 (#18) open in the theater audition scene on Tuesday.    The second comes at the end of the show.  She is onstage during the “Breaking Free” sequence and dancing on stage with the kids (pg 94).  There is a brief blackout, and then Scene 11 begins with the countdown and all the Wildcats running on stage after the big win, and Ms. Darbus has the first line.


(Before I get much farther . . .about her hair.  These pictures were taken at a dress rehearsal.  She had a lovely gray rinse and a curly updo for the actual performances.)

On Monday we get our first glimpse of Ms. Darbus during the opening sequence as she chats with students (some performances may opt to have her sit out this scene).  We next see her in her classroom.  As mentioned earlier, she has a quick change from Monday to Tuesday, so I designed this costume with that in mind.  She is wearing a black base (long-sleeved black shirt and black leggings–and floral boots) that will stay with her in her next outfit.

This was a beaded kaftan dress.  I opened the front of the skirt, shortened it, and added some black braid trim around the edge.  I also tightened the elastic to give it a little more definition.  She wears this with a knee-length black satin skirt and a chunky necklace.   Her outfit coordinates with Sharpay and Ryan, to reinforce her solidarity with them.


I wanted Ms. Darbus to have a lot of visual interest and a boho feel.  Most of her outfits are layered and flowing with unusual twists and pairings.   Originally we hoped for lots of chunky jewelry, but, with the quick changes, we scaled that back.  I initially tried a long black skirt, but that made the outfit more frumpy than boho, and hid the boots.


After a quick change, we find ourselves in the theater for the musical auditions.

Ms. Darbus removed her skirt, kaftan and necklace, and added a print shift dress and floral scarf.  Here the scarf substitutes for her jewelry.  This outfit has a lot of pattern and we really loved how the tunic coordinated with the boots.  This was actually a really lucky find.  Originally I had her in the Friday outfit on Tuesday, but it just didn’t work.  We didn’t like it with the boots, and it just didn’t blend with the scene.  The morning after Costume Preview Night I walked into my local thrift store and this dress was hanging on the end of a rack.  Sometimes things are just meant to be!

The other thing I liked about this dress, was that it pulls out the yellow in the outfit Gabrielle is wearing.  Note also how the colors tone with the shirt Troy is wearing.  The four of them all blend and coordinate together, which forms an eye-pleasing “picture” on stage.  In this scene, Ms. Darbus is not connected to Sharpay and Ryan, but has shfited to visually linking with Gabrielle and Troy.


On Wednesday Ms. Darbus confronts Coach in the gym.


Her outfit is a retro split skirt, blouse and loose jacket.  The colors are reflective of the colors from her Tuesday outfit, and the colors in her floral boots.  She forgot her jewelry this rehearsal,  but she adds a chunky black necklace.  Her shoes are now black, but have a heel and a somewhat pointy-toed look, similar to the boots.  The colors in her outfit reflect the colors in the backdrop.  The print is large enough to show up on stage. (I will often hang a garment up on a rack, and then walk across the store to look back at it to assess how it will look from a distance.  It is surprising how prints and patterns that you think will look amazing onstage end up looking like . . . mud).

I wanted this outfit to be a little more subdued because she is very hurt and angry about the betrayal by Troy.  The black jacket is also about as close as she can get to a “power suit” as she goes to confront Coach Bolton.  I really liked how this outfit coordinated with the set, and how it reflected the same color palatte as the shift dress and the floral boots.

Ms Darbus, High School Musical


On Thursday Ms. Darbus hands a note to Jack Scott.  In our show the audience only had a brief glimpse of her head and arm, so no additional costume.

Ms. Darbus handing the note, High School Musical


Friday is the big audition.  At this point, she is back to coordinating with Sharpay and Ryan, and back to her over-the-top colorful self, with bling, fringe and lots of motion.   This really created a very striking visual on stage.


We had the basketball players in white/red on the left, the colorful center, and then the science club on the right in red/white, against a largely black and white background, with lights behind Sharpay and Ryan.  There is a ton of motion and coordination in this scene, and I was really happy with the way the colors came out.

Originally, the outfit she was wearing was her Tuesday outfit, but it fit much better on Friday.  The dress was a sleeveless tie-dye print shift dress.  I added blue ric-rac to the top (largely unseen), and lots of blue sequins to the bottom, as well as edging the hem with white fringe.  She wears a blue scarf with this.  (You will also note, that she has her closer outfit pre-set under this.  The sleeves and skirt are showing–but no one notices).

For the finale she wears Wildcat red and white.  She removes her aqua scarf and tunic dress, and adds her red scarf (which she forgot to grab this rehearsal).

The top is a red and white floral tunic that was embellished with translucent sequins and “rhinestone” crystals.  She also wears a red wrap, to continue with her layered look.

Ms. Darbus, High School Musical

I did some last minute switching and re-arranging of costumes for all of the main characters in this show.  One of the problems with my “let the cast members have input into their costume” plan was that I initially didn’t have the coordination of costumes that I like.  We were able to achieve that with some relatively small tweaks, and changing around a few costume pieces after Costume Preview Night, and in the end, I was happy with how Ms. Darbus looked, and how her costumes reflected her character while meshing with the other cast members.

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