Can-Can Can’t – I went to see Can-Can last night, a Cole Porter musical, playing at the Tibbits Opera House. Tibbits is a professional summer stock theatre that I worked one summer about 16 years ago as the costume designer.
Tibbits used to be an equity house, where young actors could earn their equity or union cards. No more. It is still professional summer stock; actors and musicians are paid for their work. The acting is still pretty good, but the production quality is appalling. It’s true that the production staff only has about two weeks to put a show together, but the stage is small and so is the cast of 17.
The set design was very busy – so busy it was distracting. I understand what the designer was trying to do: using paintings from various Toulouse-Lautrec works as backdrops for different scenes. Unfortunately, the cut-outs didn’t fit the stage and the stage crew didn’t frame the drops with curtains or legs. Every time they brought in a new flat, you could see the flats from previous scenes behind.
Normally, backdrops fly up or over into the wings when not being used or are covered by blacks. The best scene was at the end when they got rid of the backdrops altogether, leaving only the syc. It was a relief to lose the clutter. The set dressing seemed primitive and simple, the lighting was too dark. The orchestra consisted of a piano, a keyboard, drums and a couple of bad clarinets. It was very thin.
The costumes. I understand that, being a costumer, I may be too critical, but I would not let these costumes onstage. I have costumed 60-70 actors wth multiple costume changes in only 6 weeks (evenings and weekends only). I don’t see how this costumer could work full time days and evenings for 2 weeks for only 17 actors and do such a horrible and half-assed job.
The play is set at the turn of the century. The can-can girls were wearing tank leotards as a part of their costumes – with some very ugly flowers sewn along the top. They should have something more dance-hall victorian, perhaps a satin camisole or something corsetty-looking. Three of the girls were dressed in the same ugly brown skirts with plain white crinolines while the 4th, the ingenue, was dressed in pink with a bright red crinoline. If she were a featured dancer, I could maybe understand it, but the dancing,thoroughly underwhelming in and of itself, did not use featured dancers. If the director insisted, they could have been dressed the same, but each one would have different colored petticoats. My own personal preference would have each of them in a different color but the same style and fabric. That way, the ingenue could be slightly brighter in order to stand out but still fit in with the others.
The dancers all wore the same can-can costumes throughout the whole play, even during the street scenes where they should be wearing street clothes. The other women characters were wearing street clothes, but the costumer forgot to add petticoats – a must for a victorian lady.
The leading man had one pants-leg shorter than the other and I kept wondering why all the secondary male actors left their hats on indoors. It seemed…odd. A couple of men had shoes not right for the period, but could have been easily fixed with a pair of spats to hide them.
All-in-all, I’ve seen better productions put on by our local community theater, not just the Civic Theatre, which is known as the 3rd best community theater nationally, but even the small, low budget, Comstock Community Theatre does a better job.