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Gerald Ramsey as Mufasa in The Lion King.

Keeping It Fresh

How do you keep a hyena clean?

Very carefully, laughs Gregory Young, wardrobe supervisor for the 350 costumes that travel with the tour of The Lion King, which plays Hartford’s Bushnell Aug. 1-19. 

Half the costumes can be washed, he says, but for the unique fabrics and materials of the other costumes designed by director Julie Taylor, he turns to a local dry cleaner, French Cleaners of West Hartford. (And because the tour has played Hartford several times before, the cleaner is well versed in his costume challenges.)

“This is the most unique show I’ve worked on,” Young says. “With other shows you deal with pants, shirts, ties and dresses — unless you get into rhinestones and sequins and stuff like that.”

But keeping a warthog and meerkat fresh is something else entirely.

There are 20 to 30 pieces from the show’s principals that need dry cleaning, and 50 from ensemble. That includes the Lioness, the Bird Lady and, most problematic, the jungle plant people with their blooming, multi-pleated pod dresses. Scar’s leather pieces need special care, too. And as for the hyenas, because they are so padded, “they sweat a lot.” Enough said.

One trick of the trade, he says: If things turn a bit funky in between cleanings, “we spray the costumes with alcohol to keep them fresh until we can send it out to be dry cleaned.”

And when cleaning isn’t enough — everything fades with time and repeated washings — new costumes are being created for the many tours and Broadway show. “Five to six costume shops in New York are contracted to re-do outfits when they have to be completely replaced.”

Does cleaning come into play when costumes are first envisioned? In the beginning the designers are given leeway to design the way they want, he says, but if it turns into a hit they have to change fabrics that are more manageable for maintenance for a long run. The show is in its 21st year.

On the plus side, puppets don’t sweat — or have unions — so their maintenance is handled by its own special department.

“It all keeps you on your toes,” Young says of his traveling challenges. “You have to keep the show looking fresh the way it did on opening night so people coming to the show 20 years later are getting that same experience.” 

What Would Cersei Think?

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Peter Dinklage

Peter Dinklage, who plays Tyrion Lannister — one of the most popular characters on HBO’s hit fantasy series Game of Thrones — is taking on another fascinating character with physical challenges: Cyrano.

Dinklage, 49, stars in Cyrano, the new musical that his wife Erica Schmidt is directing at Goodspeed Musicals’ Norma Terris Theatre in Chester from her adaptation based on Edmond Rostand’s play Cyrano de Bergerac. Also starring Haley Bennett (The Girl on the Train, The Magnificent Seven) as Roxanne, the play is a “developmental production” (meaning not ready for critics) and runs Aug. 3 to Sept. 9.

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Haley Bennett

But Dinklage’s new role got me to thinking that Cyrano and Tyrion have a lot in common. So here’s my checklist for GoT fans who might be enticed to go to the theater to see one of America’s top classical actors show his panache: 

Both are mocked with derogatory names due to their unusual physical traits (Dinklage has dwarfism and Cyrano is known for an extremely large nose). Both use their wit and love of language. Both indulge in a good deal of wine and merriment. Both are poets at heart. Both use their physical imperfections to be underestimated by many, gaining advantages.

Differences? One sings, the other hangs with dragons.

(After the August issue went to press, Goodspeed announced that they were extending production on Cyrano until Sept. 9. This article has been updated to reflect the change.)

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Ed Dixon in Georgie.

Not the Man He Knew

Ed Dixon had a particular dilemma when putting together his solo show about beloved British character actor, two-time Tony Award winner and dear friend, the late George Rose: how to deal with a dark and unsavory side of the man who was murdered in 1988 at the age of 68 in the Dominican Republic.

Dixon will bring his funny, touching and shocking Georgie to the Cabaret and Performance Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford on Aug. 3 at 8 p.m.

“I didn’t know how people would take the last part of the show,” Dixon says of the part of the show when he reveals Rose’s secret self. “But early in the show’s development a pair of women who looked like New Jersey housewives, not real theater types, came up to me after a show and said, ‘Oh my God, [Rose] reminded me of the man I divorced. I didn’t know who he was.’ That’s when I knew Georgie could have a life.”

Dixon, who has appeared many times at Goodspeed and Connecticut Repertory Theatre (most recently in Sweeney Todd), won the Drama Desk Award for solo work when Georgie played Off-Broadway last year — but he has added new material to the show since then. Dixon will also star in a new musical based on the film Grumpy Old Men at the Ogunquit (Maine) Playhouse followed by a new musical based on The Rivals in the fall at Bristol Riverside Theatre outside of Philadelphia. Busy man.

“The crazy message for me is that if you have great love and admiration for someone and then you find out something [disturbing] about them that you can’t put in any drawer, it oddly doesn’t alter those other [positive] experiences that you had with that person. But it alters you though, and I had a long time grappling with my feelings about it. It’s unresolvable and I don’t try to resolve it for the audience. I just present what happened.” 

Have you heard …?

Jimmy Brewer, who just graduated from Carnegie Mellon University, will star in the end-of-season Hartford Stage world-premiere musical The Flamingo Kid. He will play the character of Jeffrey that Matt Dillon played in the 1984 Garry Marshall movie.

… Bloomfield’s Anika Noni Rose (a Tony Award winner for Caroline, or Change) returned to the musical stage in a new, Off-Broadway production of Carmen Jones, directed by John Doyle (Broadway’s The Color Purple), this summer at Classic Stage Company.

… Next year’s Connecticut Critics Circle awards celebration will be held at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam on June 3, 2019.


This article appeared in the August 2018 issue of Connecticut Magazine. Did you like what you read? You can subscribe here.

Frank Rizzo has covered the arts-entertainment scene in Connecticut since disco reigned in the ’70s, including nearly 34 years writing for the Hartford Courant. Email him at FrRiz@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @ShowRiz.