By Julianne Homokay
Special to The Alpine Mountaineer
It’s never too late to reinvent yourself. Just ask Toni Veronick, costume designer for the Lake Arrowhead School of Dance’s production of The Nutcracker, which is anticipated to return to production in early December at Rim of the World High School.
Sewing is in Veronick’s blood. Her father was a tailor from Italy who taught her to sew when she was just 12 years old by taking clothes apart and putting them back together. In fact, one of her first jobs was doing alterations at a dry cleaning business he owned in Orange County, where she grew up.
“Truthfully, I never was that ambitious,” Veronick says. She’s always been happy with what she’s doing, and has always picked and chosen what she’s wanted to do.
If not ambitious, she definitely has a fearlessness about her. She and her husband moved to Crestline 40 years ago on a whim. Her husband made a trip up here with a friend, and informed her when he got home: “Hey, we’re going to move to the mountains!” They signed their closing paperwork on the house she still lives in now during the Panorama Fire of 1980, the sky a black ceiling above their heads. That black sky did not deter them in the least.
After the move, she was still taking in alterations and making bridesmaids’ dresses to help make ends meet when she noticed there was sewing going on at the former Ice Castle International Training Center, where Michelle Kwan famously trained. She got her card to the artistic director, Robin Cousins, and was called in to help with the costumes for their Charles Dickens-themed show. The very next year she was in charge of wardrobe.
The connections she made there led to work for Willy Bietak Productions, whose shows include “Opera On Ice,” “Broadway On Ice” and “Festival On Ice.” She found herself on tour internationally for the first time at age 50, working with the likes of Dorothy Hamill, Doug Mills, Meryl Davis and Charlie White. She’s done both film (Will Ferrell’s Blaze Of Glory) and television (NCIS), and has collaborated with the renowned costume designers Pete Menefee, Jeff Billings and Paul Tazewell, who won an Emmy for his designs for Hamilton. She’s worked on uniforms for the military, fire departments and law enforcement. She even did costumes for Santa’s Village. “I still have a bolt of that red felt,” she laughs.
Despite her glamorous resume, Veronick emphasizes: “I’m really a behind-the-scenes person.” The most rewarding show she’s ever done? The Nutcracker for Lake Arrowhead School of Dance.
Shortly after she began working at Ice Castle, she met Sharon McCormick, the founder and director of Lake Arrowhead School of Dance, and embarked on a 30-year collaboration and friendship. Each year, she’ll “shake it up a little,” finding ways to tweak the costumes to keep the look fresh for the audience.
And while she loves working with professionals, she finds the most joy in watching the dance students become excited to perform when they feel good in what they’re wearing. “My heart is in making the wearer of the costume happy,” she said. When the kids are about to step onstage, “there is nothing like the twinkle in their eyes.”
Performance dates have not yet been set for this year’s production of the Lake Arrowhead School of Dance’s The Nutcracker.