By MIKE CHAIKEN
Quick fashion is king these days on the runways of the fashion capitals of the world.
But fairy tale princess Cinderella was always the queen of quick fashion.
One minute, “Ella” was a peasant girl dressed in rags, covered in soot, and taunted by an evil stepmother and evil stepsisters—and then the next moment she was the princess of the ball being courted by Prince Charming and wearing the most fabulous glass slippers.
Of course, along the way, the fairy tale fashionista had a little help in her makeover from her Fairy Godmother.
When “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” comes to Waterbury’s Palace, Chris Lavin has the task of being the backstage Fairy Godmother (or Fairy Godfather) to the princess. His job is to make sure the actress who plays Ella—Tanya Lubov— is in and out of her costumes in a flash. And he’s responsible for setting the sartorial special effects onstage that makes the audience’s collective jaw drop.
For Lavin, who has worked in numerous shows on Broadway as a dresser, the touring production of “Cinderella” does not offer the most number of quick changes he has ever had to work on in a show. They’re not even the quickest quick changes he has ever had to perform.
But, he said, in a phone call from Lincoln, Neb., the changes for this fairy tale brought to life requires the most amount of diligence, often calling for a triple check before sending “Ella” on stage because of how delicate and highly rigged the garments are that undergo a magical transformation on stage.
“The pieces are fragile,” said Chris, whose official title is assistant wardrobe and Ella dresser. “You don’t want to disturb the rigging” so the actress can perform the transformation on stage properly.
The changes are a mixture of “Wardrobe 101” costume construction and garments that are engineered in ways Chris has never had to work with before.
The work of the dresser is not usually noticed, unless something goes amiss, said Lavin.
However, his work backstage with Lubov is key to the audience’s enjoyment.
“I never felt more vital and part of the onstage magic,” said Lavin of working on “Cinderella.”
“It’s kind of cool I’m in a position where I am actively taking part in the magic.”
Each quick change, said Lavin, is carefully choreographed and blocked out. There are certain rituals and set-ups to ensure consistency in the changes.
“Everything is set up within an inch of its life,” said Lavin. “It’s like a great dance routine… Every second counts.”
Lavin said his supervisor, Rae Phillips, is typically on hand to ensure the change goes smoothly and is successful on stage. “Her fingers are so deft (closing the buttons), like Edward Scissorhands. She’s extraordinary.”
“Rae and myself can get (Lubov) in and out of her peasant dress in five to six seconds.”
Of all the tasks that one can take in theater, being a dresser is not one of those obvious choices like acting or directing or even set design might be.
“I performed in high school,” said Lavin. “You’re doing everything. You don’t see there are designated people in the real world (to handle these tasks). Everyone pitched in.”
Lavin had long loved the theater. Growing up in Long Island, he said he would see shows every weekend. One time, he went backstage and the actress who accompanied him, pointed out the dresser. He didn’t even know such a position existed, he said.
When he went off to college, said Lavin, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. But one particular professor was especially inspirational, and this professor convinced Lavin to give theater a go.
However, Lavin said he wasn’t interested in performing. But he did like the tech end of theater. He learned about what it takes to take on a a career as a dresser and that’s what he pursued.
The choice was a good one. Within two weeks of graduation, Lavin said he had his first job on Broadway.
Touring is new for Lavin. He said he has been on the road with “Cinderella” for five months. But he is feeling right at home.
Backstage on tour can be an adjustment each night. Different theaters have different spaces off stage, said Lavin. This throws off the routine a little bit at each stop.
But Lavin enjoys being on tour because he’s always meeting the different people in each city who are brought in to help with the costume changes. “That’s fun and dynamic.”
“I love this,” said Lavin of his life as a dresser for “Cinderella.”
“Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella,” will play the Palace Theater in Waterbury Feb. 24 to 26 for four performances, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and two matinees—one at 2 p.m. on Saturday and one at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets for “Cinderella” can be purchased online at www.palacetheaterct.org, by phone at (203)346-2000, or in person at the Box Office, 100 East Main St., Waterbury.
Adding to the fun for families attending one of the matinee performances, the Palace is hosting “Princess Parties” beforehand. The Palace Princess will be on hand to greet young audience members dressed for the ball and pose with them for selfies. A complimentary treat and beverage is also part of this pre-show activity, which begins one hour before each matinee’s curtain time.