Who comes to Hollywood toting more than 500 over-the-top costumes, 200 hats and headdresses, 150 pairs of teetering heels, 60 up-to-there wigs and a flurry of glitter?
Based on the 1994 cult film, this story of cross-dressers on a cross-country road trip through the Outback is, not surprisingly, packed with feathers, fringe, club kid platform heels, disco jumpsuits and Daisy Dukes.
But the trick is their translation into the outrageously fun and colorful costumes created by designers Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel that take drag queen fashion to an even higher level of fantasy. The pair won a costume design Oscar for the movie version of "Priscilla" and a Tony for the Broadway musical in recognition of a va-va-voom wardrobe that includes a jacket emblazoned with sparkly Barbie faces, jewelry G-strings, a dress made entirely of flip-flop sandals, floral topiary headpieces and a gown that features two Muppet-like puppets tucked into the folds.
Imagination runs wild with dresses in the form of giant sprinkle cupcakes and tinsel paintbrushes. Yet ethereal mermaid gowns and feathered gowns with couture-like detailing are sophisticated enough to call to mind the late
At the Pantages, where the show opened May 28, we took a backstage tour with wardrobe supervisor Gillian Austin, who oversees costume changes and maintenance.
Tell us a little about your background.
I've been doing wardrobe for about 10 years. I've done cruise ships, movies and I've mostly done touring shows. I did "Cats" for a long time and "Hairspray." This is definitely the biggest costume show I've ever done. It has been a big learning experience.
What have been some of your biggest wardrobe challenges?
It's a challenge every day because there are so many costumes in the show that things are constantly breaking. And most of the costumes are one-of-a-kind. Everything is so unique that we have to figure out how to fix it when it does break. And there are a lot of quick changes in the show -- many onstage -- that we had to figure out. We have all these boys in the show in heels. So they had to get used to wearing heels and tights. Also, whenever we go to a new city, we have to train [local] dressers to work with these really bizarre costumes. We have to kind of scare them to respect the costumes, but we have to also slow pitch, like "OK, be on your toes, you can't hurt it." That kind of thing.
I thought you might mention male undergarment conundrums (like men in bras).
We do have the men in corsets and tights for a chunk of the show. We also have a lot of men in padded bras and in butt pads to give them hips. [There is] lots of that kind of stuff going on back here.
How many costumes and costume changes are there?
I haven't sat down and counted, but I'd say there are 500ish costume changes in the show. And if you count shoes and hats and accessories and wigs, I think there are about 2,000 costume pieces.
Any insider fashion secrets about the show?
For the opening scene [set to the music] “It’s Raining Men,” there is the orange cowboy, the pink pilot.... When they are all lined up in their poses, the color scheme is the gay pride flag. Also, a lot of the costumes have an Australian theme. They are the flora and fauna of
How do you keep all these costumes clean?
We pretty much soak everything down with alcohol after each show to sanitize it. We use spray bottles filled with Vodka and spray pits and crotches to sanitize them. It prevents odors. You can use normal isopropyl alcohol, but it can smell bad. I also have a whole schedule of what gets washed when. We do dry cleaning twice a week.
Any major wardrobe malfunctions?
Some of the great stories come from Broadway. A couple of the boys have stepped on the cupcake costumes and fallen over, and once they're down, they can't really get up. So the only thing to do is for a tech to come over and lift them up. We haven't had a cupcake down yet. But in the "Material Girl" striptease bit, we have a guy who keeps losing his tail, so he pretty much looks like he has a bare butt on stage. It seems to happen to the same guy at least once a month. The emu lost his lips one time, too, and we just put makeup on him. But mostly it's been men falling in heels. And when they're in heels, they are 6' 5", so it's like Everest falling.
Do you have any special prints or designer collaborations?
We have all these custom shoes. Most of them are by LaDuca, which is a dance shoe company. And there are Australian Blundstone boots; we have our own drag version [with a high wedge heel] that they wear when they do the hiking scene. All of our plaids are custom. And we have a custom print called "Dingo Stole My Baby" created specifically for the show that has a pattern of a dingo [wild Australian dog], a car, a camper and Ayers Rock [a sandstone rock formation in Australia] that is worn in the casino scene.
I was fixated on the glittery lips that reminded me a bit of the jeweled lips at
That's a whole different department. But I do know that all the glitter they use is like a potion. It's a mix of three different colors. But this is the secret of the show. We're not supposed to tell you, but this is how they change all their makeup [so quickly]. They actually use masks.
[She points to shelves filled with what must be hundreds of eye makeup masks that feature lashes, liner and shadow on skin-colored backgrounds. While the show's chief publicist tries to deter photographers from shooting the actors up close, where the masks can be detected, they are quietly credited in the back of the playbill to a somewhat anonymous, and rather ingenious, Bob Flanigan].
"Priscilla Queen of the Desert," at the Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, through June 16. Tickets are available on Ticketmaster or call (800) 982-ARTS (2787).