What’s the fastest you’ve ever gotten your clothes on? A minute? Nadine Hettel has got you beat. She’s been stripping clothes off actors and actresses and suiting them back up at lightning speed for 22 years. The quick-change artist’s latest challenge is working as the star dresser for the touring company of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” which opened Wednesday at the Kennedy Center.
The Tony-winning musical involves all of the things that make a good farce: mistaken identity, multiple lovers, squabbling over inheritances. For Hettel and actor John Rapson, part of the fun involves the 13 quick changes necessary for him to play eight different members of the D’Ysquith family, all of them in line to claim a fortune. (The show’s title is your clue not to get too attached to any of them.)
“The loosest definition of a quick change is there’s not enough time to get to the dressing room,” Hettel says. “A more strict definition is anything under a minute and a half.” For “Gentleman’s,” Rapson’s fastest change is 17 seconds.
Things are especially tricky because two of Rapson’s characters are women. “You have to add makeup and remove makeup; instead of just hats, it’s hats and wigs,” Hettel says. “Plus, getting him into a dress — in order for the padding to sit right and make him look like a woman it has to be tight, so it’s harder to zip.”
Hettel has one major rule when it comes to beating the clock: “You can’t freak out.” Even when something goes wrong — and things sometimes do, usually involving zippers — “you have to stop and just breathe for half a second and come up with a plan to get them out there.”
John Rapson’s change from Lady Salome to Lord D’Ysquith clocks in at a leisurely 35 seconds. Here, star dresser Nadine Hettel takes us through it step by step:
1. John will come rushing backstage and he’s in a full dress and a wig.
2. He hands off his props to a props person.
3. As soon as his hair is removed [usually by the tour’s hair supervisor], I unzip the dress, shove it off his body and throw it out of the way.
4. The local dresser [hired from wherever the tour currently is playing] holds up the jacket and shirt for him to dive into, like putting on your winter coat backwards.
5. I zip [the shirt/jacket combo] up the back, while the hair person has removed his lipstick and just dried him off. He does a lot of running around, so there’s some sweat.
6. He will put on his glasses and, depending on timing, either he will grab his hat or I will hand it to him.
7. I’ll hand him some water and a cane and he’ll leave us.
Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW; through Jan. 30; $64-$229.
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