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Costume changes make ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’ sparkle

 The 'PriscillQueen Desert' wardrobe.  I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

The "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" wardrobe. I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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When: Through March 30

Where: Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress

Tickets: 28-$85

Info: (800)775-2000; Run time:

2 hours 30 minutes (with one intermission)

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Updated: March 28, 2013 2:47PM

It’s easy to see why Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner won both a Tony Award and Oscar for their costume designs for “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”

A recent backstage look at the more than 500 costumes, 60 wigs, 150 pairs of shoes and more than 200 hats and headpieces for the stage musical revealed an ocean of feathers — both ostrich and peacock sequins, spandex, Swarovski rhinestones and artificial flowers, all in a kaleidoscope of colors.

Wardrobe Supervisor and Palos Heights native Gillian Austin oversees a team of 15 costumers, 4 wig masters and two makeup artists for the “Priscilla” production backstage. Her team is responsible for everything in dressing room alley move, well, seamlessly, during each performance.

“This is one of the most intense shows in terms of number of costumes and costume changes, without a doubt,” Austin said. “I’m very lucky that I have great people to work with at every turn.”

Making sure every skirt, dress, shoe, glove, wig, hat and tear-away tuxedo is properly pressed and sprayed and in working order — and in the right order for every costume change for each of the actors is nothing short of military operation of sorts — and only half the battle. Getting into and out of each costume and into the next — sometimes in as little as one minute — is a whole other matter, and a testament to the concentration and determination of each cast member.

Ralph Meitzler, who stars as the shows’ dance captain, fight captain, understudy for several roles and one of three “swings” (understudies for almost every role in the show,) took us through one of his many costume changes for each performance. The Act I change, from a “Paint brush “ in “Colour My World” to the iconic (and nicknamed) “Gumby” dancers from the “I Will Survive” number, allows a 3-minute window for both the costume change and his return to the stage for the next scene.

Piece of cake!

So here’s a look at what’s involved in the transformation — that took just 2.5 minutes for our backstage run-through — before a recent performance. No to mention the precise “lips” steps needed to apply and remove the lipstick and glitter (clear packing tape is involved!) for each costume change.

It’s show time!

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