Just me talking about costume-y kind of stuff
From their website:
"Welcome to Harlem’s famed Cotton Club in this stylish, brassy musical celebration of Duke Ellington’s greatest musical hits. A full on-stage orchestra backs superb jazz vocalists, extraordinary tap dancers, dazzling Art Deco costumes, and unforgettable torch singers who bring classics like “Mood Indigo,” “Take the A Train,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” to vivid life in this grand Tony Award-winning Broadway musical. Never before produced in Austin!"
Rob and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We had tickets on the extreme end of the front row on house left. The stage was at my eye level. I'm so short and the stage floor was so high, I had to sit up tall in my chair to see the dancers' feet touch the stage floor. The top of the show scenic elements were an Art Deco metal framework around the proscenium with sheer curtains behind, also painted with a Deco pattern and lit with varying colors on each side. Center stage had a flat flown in that functioned like an act curtain. It was painted with a grey scale Duke Ellington image. Once the show began, the Duke Ellington flat was flown out to reveal a bare downstage with a white piano at center. Behind and stage right of the piano was a curving staircase leading up to the platforms that housed the orchestra separated by a landing into brass on stage right and woodwinds, percussion, and strings on stage left. There was a giant swag curtain background that was lit as well. At the end of Act I, the Duke Ellington flat was flown back in for intermission. In Act II reproductions in grey scale of the Duke's album covers were flown in over the platforming. The stage floor was so glossy black that it was mirror-like. I wondered if it was slick as well and how the dancer's managed to keep their feet on it.
The music was great. My husband is a particular fan of Duke Ellington's music and being a drummer, knows a lot about Sonny Greer and Louie Bellson. Rob took issue with the kit being played by Arnie Yanez. Rob said there were too many pieces in the kit and if they could get a white piano just for the look of the thing, then they should have tried harder to put a period kit up there. He was especially offended by the Plexiglas screen that surrounded it. His point was that if you had a smaller kit and didn't hit so hard, you wouldn't need a drum aquarium to muffle the sound. The modern kit didn't offend me near as much as the drum aquarium did.
Even though it was a revue and there was no plot, that didn't matter. The incredible skill of the performers blew us away. The dancing is non-stop. At one point in the show a chorus member, Matthew Shields, who is also the dance captain of the show and the head of his own tap company, begins an all out, full throttle attack of tap dancing that just doesn't quit. When he finally comes to the conclusion of his solo with the sweat flying out over the audience on every spin, he gets a brief respite during the tumultuous applause only to be joined onstage by the rest of the chorus and they just keep on dancing. Any other production, he would have taken his bows and exited stage left. Not this guy, he stays onstage and keeps on dancing. It was a hurricane of time steps and he was at the center. I couldn't believe it.
Susan Branch Towne's Designs
Susan on Sophisticated Ladies
McLennan alum Justin Cox used to do props at Zach Scott so he was able to introduce me to Susan Branch Towne, the costume designer for the show. I asked her a whole bunch of questions and here is what I learned.
"I think our initial budget was $18,000 for materials and $7,000 for over-hire labor. I know we exceeded that, but I'm not sure by exactly how much. The only costume shop staff that is on salary are the shop manager, her assistant, and the wardrobe supervisor. All draping and stitching that happens beyond that is considered over-hire. To make the labor budget go further, I volunteered to make two pieces- the "Solitude" dance dress and the extra long peignoir for "In a Sentimental Mood." I am not on staff at Zach as either a resident designer or a draper, and only drape on shows I design. I job in by United Scenic Artists union contract as a designer.
We started building in late May after the previous Zach show MOTHERS AND SONS opened. The 4 bird costumes were built by a draper I know in Des Moines, except for the headdresses which were made for us by companies in Miami and Thailand. Jennifer Holliday's red sequin dress and purple satin robe/dress were made by a draper here in Austin. The 4 plaid jumpers for "Cotton Tail" were made by another local draper. Chanel's "Perdido" wrap skirt and the 2 boys' tropical pants were made by the asst. shop manager. As I said earlier, I also made two pieces myself. The only rented pieces were from a previous production I designed of SOPHISTICATED LADIES at Pioneer Theatre in Salt Lake City several years ago. Those were both in "Beginning to See the Light," the gold velvet pantsuit and the red smoking jacket.
Very few costumes were pulled from stock, especially when sets of matching costumes were needed. Most other items were purchased on line or locally, and modified as needed. For instance, the ladies' black tailcoat vests for "Rockin' In Rhythm" were purchased, then embellished with rhinestones.
I am an Asst. Professor of Theatre at St. Ed's, a full time faculty position. Still, it is important that I keep my professional design career going. Besides the two shows I usually design as part of my load at St. Ed's, I do about 4 or 5 additional shows per year. This season, I designed one show for The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, two shows at Zach, one small piece for Ballet Austin, and am preparing a show for Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, NY. It's a challenge doing the out-of-town shows especially, but I either engage qualified guest instructors or conduct the classes remotely myself.
The budgets- particularly the materials budgets- at St. Ed's are much much smaller than what I get at Zach. (Zach has grown exponentially in the past few years with the opening of the Topfer Theatre.) As I said earlier, Zach uses over-hire drapers and stitchers of varying skill sets to create and alter the costumes. There is a limited number of people in town with draping and crafting skills, and they get booked up, so that is why we have sometimes had to engage technicians in places like Oregon, Baltimore, St. Louis, and Iowa for the more complicated projects.
To buy fabrics and trims for this show, I went to NYC where I lived for many years and have the best shopping experience. I was able to fold it into a little vacation and show-seeing trip for myself. A few fabrics were also purchased locally and on line.
About the shoes, we bought all the ladies' shoes, and some of the men's. The two most featured tappers had their own high-end shoes that they used in the show. Any AEA members who used their own shoes were paid a weekly rental fee for each pair."
SUSAN BRANCH TOWNE
From Zachary Scott Theatre's Pinterest site.
Total Cost of the Event: Two tickets were $25 each for a total of $50. We sat on the front row because those are the cheapest tickets. I would have liked to sit further back but we couldn't afford the $93 tickets for the center section or the $60 tickets for the side sections. But even on the front row in the cheap seats it was well worth the ticket price. It runs till August 23, so you have no excuse not to go and see it.