Join Crystal Insider Joe Kita as he goes behind the scenes during a Serenity production show.
“5 minutes everyone, 5 minutes everyone.”
The announcement comes over the dressing room intercom as Dmitri is applying eyeliner, Shannon is adjusting his wig, Boris is limbering up, and Carl is searching everywhere for his white scarf. The entire Crystal Serenity Ensemble of singers and dancers is in the final throes of preparing for a stage performance of the acclaimed production show Across the Pond, and it is controlled mayhem.
I am backstage in a far corner of the gentlemen’s dressing room trying to blend in with the mannequin heads and stay out of everyone’s way. This is a restricted area, and Valentina, the Russian line captain, has warned me to stay put and, above all, “Do not try to sneak into the girls’ dressing room.”
This is the womb from which stars are born, and I’m here to get the story you never see from the audience. Out in the Galaxy Lounge, the atmosphere is subdued. Lights are low, Beatles tunes are playing, conversations are hushed, and cocktails are being sipped. But meanwhile…
“Does this leotard look funny or okay?” (Boris)
“More bronzer! We just want to be pretty!” (Shannon)
“Have you seen Chris? Has anyone seen Chris?” (Val, searching for the stage manager)
“La-la-LA, la-la-LA, la-la-LAAAHHH!” (Tom, the lead singer, warming up)
“2 minutes, in places everybody, 2 minutes.”
To properly imagine what it looks like backstage, think of your local dry cleaners. The same system of motorized racks that transport your fresh clothes to the counter is employed here. Hundreds of colorful, custom-made costumes dangle from rails that wind under the ceilings of both dressing rooms. They sway with the movement of the ship, making them look strangely alive – a clothesline for phantoms. For ease of access, the costumes are grouped by show – Curtain Call, 68 Café, My Life: The Music of Billy Joel…all your Crystal favorites.
That’s the organized part. The rest is a hodge-podge of top hats, sandbags, buttons, shoe polish, benches, chairs, lanterns, an adding machine, a streetlamp, thread, umbrellas, and even a chandelier.
There will be seven wardrobe changes during tonight’s 45-minute performance of Across the Pond, which spotlights the music of the Beatles and other famous Brits. The costumes have been draped across the back of each male performer’s chair, which is set in front of a well-lit makeup mirror. (The female performers have individual assistants called “dressers” because of their more complicated costume changes and makeup.) Everyone’s shoes have been placed on the floor in the order in which they’ll be used.
“So many shoes,” says Dmitri, shaking his head.
A few final spritzes of hair spray. A last sip of water.
“Here we go!” says Dmitri, with a clap of his hands.
And suddenly I’m alone with the phantoms.
There’s a small black-and-white television monitor in each dressing room with the time running across the bottom. The quality is poor, so I decide to sneak into the wings for a better view of the stage. On my way there I nearly run into Virgil, one of the ship’s night cleaners. He and other members of the crew moonlight as stagehands. They’re dressed entirely in black so the audience won’t spot them making set changes.
The opening numbers end, the lead singers take over, and the dancers scamper back to their respective dressing rooms. Clothes get stripped off. I see now these guys are athletes – their bodies lean and well muscled from the hours of practice. I try to look casual.
“The most annoying thing is socks,” says Shannon. “They’re the last things you think about. You’re all dressed and then, shoot, I forgot to change socks!”
Minutes later, the room is deserted again.
Tom Lowe, the lead singer, is backstage now, changing costumes for his upcoming Elton John piano solo. He has his own dressing room, a tiny cubicle just off the wings, as does Sarah Combs, the female lead, on the other side. Tom told me at rehearsal that he’s done this show 80 times. “But that’s nothing,” he added. “I did Les Miserables 650 times in two years, and that was a three-hour show.”
Another wardrobe change. Benny and the Jets and then Your Song thunder in the background and get me singing along. Val, dressed in a long, flowing gown, comes into the dressing room and does a split on the floor.
A rousing rendition of Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting comes next and leaves everyone sweating and out of breath when they return for their fourth wardrobe change. The ship is rocking now – figuratively as well as literally. The seas have turned rough. This is a constant challenge for the dancers, and the most difficult thing they must adjust to when performing at sea. “I am always listening to the ship,” explains Dmitri. “I must catch its movement – delaying for a millisecond as I feel the floor coming up and then I jump.”
And just that quick, he’s off.
Queen’s We Will Rock You fills the lounge, the bass reverberating backstage. Time for the red leotards now and the black pants and jackets. Toweling off. A spritz more hairspray. Glances at the monitor, watching for their cue. Carl Draper, who will replace Tom shortly, is making his Crystal debut. Val pops in to adjust his white scarf, which he finally found, and wish him well. “You’re going to be great!” she says.
The houselights dim, and the stagehands slide out four giant panels with pictures of the Beatles, positioning them on a revolving part of the stage. When the lights come back on, John, Paul, Ringo and George are magically there both in spirit and in person.
A few more numbers. Sarah flies backstage for a 30-second costume change. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Everyone else exits. A final wardrobe switch. I’m getting the impression that the singing and dancing is easy compared to all this changing. Back on stage. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Outrageous costumes. I leave my corner to peek out from behind the black curtains in the wings. The entire cast is performing now. A blur of coordinated movement. Confetti in the air. The finale….
“Ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear it for Across the Pond and the entire Crystal Ensemble of Singers and Dancers!”
And then back into the womb for a brief rest.
In 75 minutes, they’ll do it all over again.
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