Howard Crabtree barely saw When Pigs Fly take off -- he died of AIDS five days after it premiered -- but some would say he lives on each night that his costumes take the stage. Magnificent drag-wear -- and then some -- constructed from foam rubber, sequins, glitter and other costumer's folderol, it was the attire Crabtree created that made the show, an old-fashioned follies revue that can only be appreciated in full by a very gay and/or enlightened audience. And that's the legacy local costume designer Lamecia Landrum had to live up to when she was asked to costume a production of When Pigs Fly opening this week at Theatre on Broadway.
"Crabtree's costumes are not only very elaborate, but they also always have a trick -- chickens fall out or flowers pop up. That's what I really enjoy about costume design -- the problem-solving," notes Landrum, who began work on Pigs in December. "Howard Crabtree was a wonderful costume designer. I try to keep the spirit of his work. I think I have a little of Howard in me."
And though you believe them utterly, those are strong words for Landrum. An adequate seamstress with a fine-art background, she's been in the costume business only about ten years, and that in itself was an act of serendipity, brought on by a stint of drama lessons that led to involvement in community theater as a volunteer. Appointed a dresser for one play, she took a look around and said, "I can do this." The rest just happened: She's gone on to costume many shows, from summer children's theater productions at the Jewish Community Center to more serious works at the TOB. Still, Landrum admits she sometimes needs help from her studio-mate, a painter who's also a more accomplished needleworker than she is. "I'll tell her what I want to do, and she'll tell me what I can do."
Even before turning to needle and thread, Landrum first read the script for Pigs -- which includes a costume plot -- consulted the director, measured the actors and watched rehearsals, picking up ideas from cast members along the way. "I love working with actors," she says. "They always have ideas. In this show, lots of the costumes have to have breasts." Landrum wasn't certain how she'd do that, in light of the need for quick costume changes throughout the show. "So, someone says out of the blue, 'How about an undergarment with breasts that stick on?' I think I'll go with that."
Landrum says she's always stitching up to the last minute for any show, but this one carries a higher stress level than usual, owing to the number and complexity of the costumes required. A week before the show opens, many of the costumes are still works in progress. An example? Landrum lifts up a magnificently diaphanous, swaying mermaid headdress in gauzy shades of sea green. "It not only has to be moving all the time, but it also can't fall off," she explains. Still in the works is a nude-look bodysuit to go with it, sporting baby-bottle nipples and a tail that will hang off a breakaway belt. And there's a pig suit, a pink, fuzzy, padded union suit with more of those nipples attached to its tummy, and one of those Crabtree confections -- a pair of wearable vanity tables that transform themselves into eighteenth-century gowns when the actors inside stand up. There are giant playing cards with crowns and hoods ("Of course, they're all queens," notes Landrum), jumpsuits and glitter wigs for a "Shaft" number, pastel cowboy suits, a purple velvet centaur and more. And, she promises, they'll all be done in time for dress rehearsal.
Well, then. So...does the pig fly? Landrum's not giving away any secrets: "You'll just have to wait and see."
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