Going strictly by its moniker, one would expect a stage production called ShowStoppers to have spectacular costumes to complement its toe-tapping songbook. But when you add in the talents of Steve Wynn, Philip Wm. McKinley and Suzy Benzinger—plus a wardrobe room brimming with sequins, feathers and top hats to the mix—something even more remarkable comes to life.
Steve Wynn’s ShowStoppers, at Wynn Las Vegas, features the Broadway hits that bring the house down, one after another, all of them selected by Wynn himself. These are his favorite numbers, from a genre he loves. McKinley, the show’s director—best known for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark—was challenged by Wynn not to duplicate anything from the original productions from which the songs came, and to work within an insane time frame.
“Everything had to be designed and built from July to September ,” McKinley says. “Then we were off, and we started rehearsing. It was tough.”
Benzinger, a New York-based designer who works extensively in film, created ShowStoppers’ $2 million worth of costumes. She also made costumes for Wynn’s other prestige show, Le Rêve, and for several Woody Allen films, among them the Oscar-winning Blue Jasmine. (Fun fact: one of her first costume gigs was for the original Ghostbusters in 1984.) Re-creating Broadway in Vegas was a towering challenge, but Benzinger met it.
“Suzy did a huge number of designs in a very short period of time,” McKinley says. “Our first meeting was June 26, and we opened December 2.”
Recently, ShowStoppers celebrated both its first anniversary and the introduction of three songs: “Big Spender” from Sweet Charity; “Nobody Does It Like Me” from Seesaw and “Don’t Rain On My Parade” from Funny Girl. They join existing numbers from A Chorus Line, Cabaret, Chicago and more. As long as Wynn loves Broadway, Benzinger’s work may never be done.
In her first interview ever about the show, Benzinger shares the extraordinary details behind the production and its costumes.
ON WORKING WITH STEVE WYNN
“Either Steve likes something or he doesn’t and that makes my life a lot easier, because it’s horrible when you work for someone who is vacillating. He loves the show. He goes all the time. I don’t know many producers who go to the show after they open.”
CUT AND SEW
Because of the short time frame to produce the costumes for ShowStoppers, the labor was split between the Wynn costume department and a New York City costume shop that Benzinger frequently works with. “Every costume is a work of art specifically made for each person,” she says.
“The order for me is an important thing because I had to design around function as well [as aesthetics],” says Benzinger. “With this show, there are so many quick changes, it’s one big, huge number after another. When I design a dress I have to think of how they are going to put it on, or take it off. Knowing the sequence was very instrumental.”
McKinley’s trick is to “follow a company number with a boys’ number,” he says. “The girls have to take off stockings, the corsets, wigs and jewelry … and, they have to put it all back on again. The boys can change in 60 seconds. However, in fast changes, the girls do it in 20 [seconds].”
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
Magnets are used to help performers get in and out of their gear when every second matters. “They don’t wreck the garments,” Benzinger says. “We try not to use Velcro anymore because it eats up the fabric.”
STAGE VS. FILM
“I love stage and I love film, but after each, I want to do the other,” Benzinger says. “It’s like childbirth. It’s so joyous you forget the pain so you do it over, and over. I really do love both mediums, though I started with stage. On a film, every day is like the opening night, so it can be frightening. I love the interaction with the dancers on stage. They are both so different; I am happy I can do both.”
Photos by Denise Truscello
“Razzle Dazzle” from Chicago: This hot-pink sport coat weighs more than six pounds and is covered in 1,815 square-cut, hand-placed Swarovski crystals.
“Balloon Dress” in “Razzle Dazzle” from Chicago: This piece has 50 balloons, 29 of which are unexpectedly popped during the number. It takes two wardrobe dressers and nearly 30 minutes to fill the balloons and get the dancer into the dress.
“Don’t Rain On My Parade” from Funny Girl: The gown features thousands of hand-beaded bugle beads placed in an eye-catching asymmetrical ombre pattern that descends from silver to emerald to black. It takes more than 140 individual bugle beads to create one single strand on the gown from top to bottom.
“Put On Your Sunday Clothes” from Hello, Dolly!: Every dress in Sunday clothes is different— the 16 female performers are clad in exquisite ball gowns. The bodice of the gown is fully corseted, and features a six-layered skirt and four-layered petticoat each with a distinctive color palette and different embroidered sequin designs.