Turkey staffing. What would a Theater Beat column be, I ask you, without some mention of turkey leotards? That's right: turkey leotards. They will be in profusion for the Walnut Street Theatre's massively elaborate production of Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn, an all-holidays-at-once musical that runs Sept. 4-Oct. 21. (See what they did there? Started, pretty much, right after Labor Day.)

This thing has 251 costume "looks" themed to the various holidays, from turkeys to Easter bonnets:

Easter bonnet being prepared for “Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn” at the Walnut Street Theatre.
Courtesy of the Walnut Street Theatre
Easter bonnet being prepared for “Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn” at the Walnut Street Theatre.

Upward of 500 separate pieces are involved. Each of the 24 cast members has to get in and out of at least 12 costumes. Berlin's cute and brilliant conceit was to have an inn that opens only on public holidays, so costume designer Mary Folino, who is also the Walnut Street Theatre's costume shop manager, had to make tons of holiday-themed getups. Thus the turkey leotards.

"This is the biggest show I have personally designed," Folino said. "I started designing this show in April and began construction in June, but full-on production began only on Aug. 1, and I am doing my last fitting … tomorrow. We did 500 fittings in two weeks. It has been pretty crazy." After hearing that I wanted to go lie down.

Please tell us what the turkey leotards look like, though. OK, so for the Thanksgiving-themed number, we are at a 1940s club, Folino says, "and the script calls for ensemble chorus ladies to enter dressed as turkeys, literally singing, 'Gobble gobble,' and the men are dressed as Pilgrims. We needed something you could dance in, and something that gave the feel of a club of that period. So it's a leotard covered in copper sequins and copper beads, and they have an organza ruffled butt like a giant poof on their backside to mimic the fullness of a tail. Plus, they are holding turkey-feather fans. Which you can buy."

A turkey leotard for “Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn” at the Walnut Street Theatre.
Courtesy of the Walnut Street Theatre
A turkey leotard for “Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn” at the Walnut Street Theatre.

I've rarely had so much fun writing a column, y'know? How do you keep track of 500 pieces? Folino has a staff that helps her do that, and she keeps a "design plot," a linear timeline with photos of each costume, character by character, number by number, like a storyboard, only with costumes.

Although she likes the turkey leotards, Folino is proudest of her costumes for "Heat Wave," a number that depicts a singing act's evolution through time, an evolution the costumes change, during the number, to show us. "We do it by internal costume changes," she says, voice sparkling. I gobbled it up.