Nearly 500 costumes in ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’

Backstage is ‘controlled chaos’
Apr. 25, 2013 @ 04:35 PM

The national tour of the glittery comedy musical “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” is coming to the Durham Performing Arts Center Tuesday with all 492 colorful costumes that garnered a Tony Award.
Troika Entertainment produces the show, and Michelle Harrison is the costume director for Troika. Some of the pieces used in the show are from the Broadway production, and others have been created since. The cast is constantly changing clothes, even on stage, Harrison said. “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” is the adventure of three friends in the Australian outback. Songs include “It’s Raining Men” and “I Will Survive.”
“Not only do we have a lot of costumes, they’re giant sized,” she said, including cupcakes and 3-foot-tall headdresses. “I saw it in New York and was scared. It is massive.”
But Troika, which has a fully functioning costume shop in Maryland, was up for the job. They specialize in tours, and send three wardrobe staff members on tour with “Priscilla,” plus two in the wig department. Locally, “Priscilla” uses 12 more people in wardrobe plus another two for wigs.
So what’s it like backstage with all those costumes?
“We like to call it controlled chaos,” Harrison said. Each quick change is in a certain spot, and that spot might be different each time the cast comes backstage. “It’s all very specifically coordinated and choreographed,” she said.
Not all cast members are the same size, so the costume department fits the costumes to the actor or builds new ones.
The giant cupcakes in the show are made from green shiny foam. Other costume materials include rhinestones, sequins, feathers, lamé fabric, vinyl, leather and neoprene.
“The brilliance behind the design is the clothes could actually be made by three drag queens,” Harrison said.
Of the nine trucks used for the tour, wardrobe takes up its own truck, which is pretty unusual, she said.
Harrison said she loves every part of her job – working with so many kinds of people including directors, designers, casts, road crews and shop staff. “I love getting to be creative every day and making pretty things and make people feel pretty,” she said. She also gets to provide entertainment and see audiences say, ‘Oh, that was wonderful,’ ” she said.
Troika is also the costume shop behind the next tour coming to DPAC, “Sister Act” in May.


WHAT: “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”
WHEN: Tuesday through May 5
WHERE: Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St., Durham