It’s easy to understand why “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” won the Tony Award for Best Costume Design. After all, it requires 500 costumes, about 65 wigs, 150 pairs of shoes and more than 200 hats and headdresses to take this show on the road.
And it takes one and a half semi-truck trailers to transport it all, said Gillian Austin, head of wardrobe, who led a backstage tour on Thursday at Shea’s Performing Arts Center. The behind-the-scenes look revealed elaborate costumes that are custom-made with lots of sequins, rhinestones, feathers, metallic materials and a whole lot of crystals.
“The show is sponsored by Swarovski,” she said of the famed crystal maker. “Everything is pretty blinged and lots and lots of feathers.”
The tour was an opportunity for nine costume design students from Fredonia State College.
“Oh my God. It was so amazing seeing all that goes into” costume design, said sophomore Ariella Lusterman. “It’s just so amazing.”
From headpieces made with ostrich feather plumes that cost about $50 each, to ballerina flats embellished with crystals, to a “flip-flop dress” that cost $7 to produce and was made with a dozen of the brightly colored shoes – the show’s entire wardrobe was made with an incredible amount of detail.
“Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical” is a 2011 Tony winner about a trio of friends on a road trip in the middle of the Australian outback. Buffalo is the fifth stop of the production’s first national tour, which opened in January. It will run at Shea’s through Sunday.
The show boasts a creative and intricate use of materials, like the giant cupcake dress that was made in the shape of the sweet treat and even has a candle headpiece that lights up on stage.
And for each of the two lizard characters in the show, a lizard tail and a set of wings that open and close are attached to a harness with bike cables.
Some of the wigs and headpieces are a couple of feet tall. There’s a rubber ducky headdress, a couple of koala bear costumes and cockatoo costumes with white and yellow wigs that were constructed with wire cages in the interior to add height.
“The show is about the flurry and fauna of Australia,” Austin said.
A staff of 11 people dress the performers for the show.
For all the hard work, time and detail that goes into each of the ornate costumes, many of the wardrobe changes are so quick that performers may wear an item for only minutes – or even seconds – at a time, Austin said.
Many of the pieces are heavy, like a leather jacket that weights about 20 pounds, and various headpieces can weigh as much as 10 pounds.
Freshman Miranda Bashwinger was “blown away” by the tour.
“It was overwhelming to see the sheer amount of costumes and the amount of work that went into them,” she said.
When Bashwinger started attending Fredonia, she figured on majoring in acting, but her plans have changed since then.
“I’ve been sewing since I was 8 years old. Costume design was something I did on the side,” she said. “And then I realized I wanted to do design.”