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Old ties bring TV costume designer to Wichita

  • Published Monday, July 11, 2011, at 12:07 a.m.

Playing a small part as Hedda Hopper in Music Theatre of Wichita's "Sunset Boulevard" was fun, a bit nerve-racking and very educational.

Working with director Mark Madama and, of course, my friend Wayne Bryan was a giant treat. Meeting and chatting with the amazing young people in the chorus also was fun. And there was George T. Mitchell, costume designer. What a talent!

He usually works for CBS Television and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, but he took time off to come to Wichita to do the costumes for the show.

"I love it here, and when I told Craig, he said, 'I know you need that artistic fulfillment.' "

And he does find his work as a costume designer fulfilling. That's thanks to Wayne Bryan. Yes, because of our Wayne Bryan, George realized his talent at the age of 17.

Wayne was in the Navy in the Philippines, and George's father worked for the Navy. Wayne was producing and directing a show and needed a costume designer.

"I raised my hand," George said. "I was an actor in the show but thought I'd like to try costumes."

"They were desperate."

Slide forward several decades and you'll find Wayne and George still doing shows.

Actors and audiences agreed the costumes he designed for "Sunset Boulevard" were simply amazing. I wanted to spend all my time in the costume shop where sketches were tacked on the wall, seamstresses were bent over sewing machines and other workers added sparkle with beading and did alterations.

Once dress rehearsal was over, the man who had just put in two 17-hour days had a few minutes to sit down and chat while he added beads to an evening gown for opening night.

I learned that he earned a degree in design at the University of North Carolina's School of the Arts. His resume includes author, teacher and providing voice-over work for commercials. But his credits are long and impressive in costume design.

He was called to help with costumes for the movie "Ray" because he has extensive knowledge in period fabrics.

He lives in Hollywood but says he's always happy to come to Wichita.

"I love working here," he said. "The staff is wonderful, so it's almost like a family reunion."

He's mightily impressed with Debbie Roberts, also from California, who runs the costume shop all season. He calls her "The Debbanator."

"She gets it done," he said.

He also gets it done.

When he was the costumer for a Vanity Fair cover, he dealt with a difficult Jack Nicholson.

"With stars, it's not just ego, it's more what they are and are not comfortable with, what they will and will not do. The editor, stylist, etc., wanted the cover to be a period piece and Jack wanted no part of that."

With patience and finesse, George said he got the stubborn star in something that pleased everyone.

Working in television, he knows the meaning of quick turnaround.

"Craig (Ferguson) will think of something in the afternoon, and I'll need to have a costume in a few hours or less, but he is a comedic genius," George said.

He started working on sketches of the costumes for the male and female leads in "Sunset Boulevard" three months ago.

When asked what the highlight of his job is, he thought briefly and said, "Seeing how everyone here makes my drawings come to life — the costume shop people, then the actors.

"We built this show in 10 days. There are 170 costumes in all. If a costume wasn't made, it was pulled from other shows, but those costumes have to be altered.

"But that's part of the excitement. They always get done. They always get done. It's the magic of theater."

Readjusting the voluminous skirt he was working on, he said, "I know I'm blessed to be able to work in a profession I love."

Reach Bonnie Bing at 316-268-6246 or bbing@wichitaeagle.com.

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