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The Look of Burlesque
Creating the faded opulence of the Burlesque Lounge required imagination, ingenuity and a team of skilled, dedicated artists. Production designer Jon Gary Steele, art director Chris Cornwell and a tireless construction team moved into Sony's Stage 23 and commenced an arduous six-week process of erecting the Burlesque Lounge. In order to make the set as fully functional and realistic as possible, the offices, hallways and dressing rooms were all connected to the club and the stage. There were no flyaway walls or separate sets to break the illusion that the Burlesque Lounge was anything but an operating nightclub.

In order to expand upon the Burlesque Lounge's "rabbit hole” otherworldly identity, Antin and Steele chose to make the interior somewhat anachronistic. "We wanted to make it feel almost like you're walking a little bit back in time,” Steele explains. "It's very period looking. When Christina's character first starts looking through all the different glass in the stairwell, you see little pieces and you don't know really what it is until, you see this gilded, aged, beautiful red and gold theatre. We wanted it to be decadent, but beautiful and elegant all at the same time.”

The inspiration to have the lounge evoke Paris in the 1920s was not entirely aesthetic. Antin and Steele wanted to call up a bygone creative environment that not only pleased the eye, but suited the Burlesque Lounge's larger-than-life inhabitants. Steele explains: "The lights, the chandeliers, the costumes – It has pizzazz.”

Steele didn't have to take too many liberties, though. The Burlesque Lounge found its precedent in the movie palaces and clubs that took their inspiration from European architecture. Steele notes: "Theatres everywhere in America have molding and gilded pieces. It's all about the drapes and the gold and the chandeliers.”

Swarovski Elements helped provide a good deal of the razzle dazzle in the set designs, providing some 80,000 elements weighing nearly 1.3 tons for the film's shimmering, sparkling crystal curtains.

Antin appreciated Steele's meticulousness and his devotion to detail. "Gary would pull pictures and images of French brasseries from the turn of the century and of bistros and restaurants to opera houses. We looked at everything you could possibly imagine and pieced it together. Everything is so detailed, right down to the brass on the back of the booths, and the nail heads that are holding the leather down on the booths, and how much we were going to age that leather.”

Eric Dane, for one, relished working in the environment. "It's overwhelmingly beautiful, this set,” Dane says. "It's got all the wrinkles of a great character actor's face. It's this very old great stage and it's got this contemporary feel to it and then it's got this great, sexy burlesque vibe.” When it came to constructing the stage, form followed function. Steele worked closely with choreographers Joey Pizzi and Denise Faye to ensure that the stage and bar sets would suit their needs. Steele even added his own contribution to the choreography by suggesting that the mirrors behind the bar divide and swing open.

As for the important task of giving the women of Burlesque their daring, sexy looks, the production turned to makeup department head Cindy Williams and hair department head Martin Samuel. Creating Cher's distinctive looks fell to makeup artist Leonard Engelman and hair stylist Maria Serenella Radaelli, meanwhile, and makeup artist Kristofer Buckle and hairstylist Frida Aradottir designed Aguilera's makeup and hair. With the designs in place, Williams and a team of fifteen to eighteen makeup artists inhabited four trailers and a tent lined with makeup stations to give the dancers and background players their unique Burlesque look. "We have one trailer that is just for body makeup,” Williams says. "We have airbrushes going twenty-four seven, airbrushing all the girls because they're so bruised that they have black and blue marks from all of their dance numbers.”

With three naturally blonde leads to work with in Aguilera, Bell and Hough, Antin and Samuel chose drastically different appearances so that they would each stand out when sharing a frame. Hough became a redhead, and Bell transformed into an ebony brunette, inspired in part by Samuel's research into burlesque performers of yesteryear. Williams also enhanced Bell's tough exterior with a few temporary tattoos. Williams, Samuel and their teams practically rendered Hough unrecognizable outside of the set: "Stanley Tucci only knows me as a redhead,” Hough notes. "I saw him at the Golden Globes and on three different nights and he had no clue who he was talking to. I'm like, ‘Stanley. It's Julianne.' He's like, "Oh, hi!' I thought, ‘Really? Do I look that different?'”

Wigs were fitted and strategically adhered to the actors' heads in order to avoid dance-induced hair malfunctions. Samuel explains: "Julianne's dance numbers are so physical and so vibrant. She's whipping her hair around all over the place and going upside down, especially in ‘Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend.' The wig has to be put on in such a way that it's just not going to come off. I was running in after every take to make sure everything's still perfectly firm and attached.”

Samuel loved that Burlesque allowed for hairstyles that occasionally referenced different historical and musical periods. ("Wagon Wheel Watusi,” for instance, is heavily influenced by the 1960s, while ‘A Guy What Takes His Time' gives a nod to the 1920s.) "The wonderful thing about creating hairstyles from different periods of hair is nostalgia,” Samuel says. "They see things that evoke feelings within them, and memories from within their lifetime.”

Clothing the cast of Burlesque became an all-consuming job for costume designer Michael Kaplan, whose credits include Blade Runner, Flashdance, Fight Club, and J.J. Abrams's Star Trek, and who found costuming a musical to have unique challenges. In the movie's wild finale, for instance, Kaplan envisioned dancers in costumes fashioned from gold chains and Swarovski crystals. Kaplan relied on trial and error and ingenuity to find a way to construct costumes that moved and shook and yet held together.

"The finale had to top everything else,” Kaplan says. "Once I got that idea in my head and decided not to use fabrics, I couldn't find anything to top it. It started looking more and more beautiful as we made samples. Then we realized how many hundreds of hours were going to go into each costume.” In all, some 250,000 Swarovski crystals in fifteen different colors went into the intricately linked costumes Kaplan designed.

To conjure the suggestion of more skin than was actually shown, Kaplan outfitted each dancer with a perfectly fitted understructure that was dyed to match their exact skin tone. The gold chains were then carefully affixed to the understructure. "It gives the illusion of nudity,” Kaplan explains. "It let us keep our rating and provided something to anchor the chain.”

Unfortunately for the costume department, gold didn't have enough give to work with the dancers' muscles. Rubber washers -- found in a hardware store -- were painted gold and added to the chains to allow for a little more freedom.

The finale is just one of Kaplan's many artistic successes. For "E.X.P.R.E.S.S.,” Kaplan designed a fantasy carnival-inspired getup for Aguilera, using outlines of his own hands to add a personal stamp to the costume. For "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend,” Kaplan found inspiration in the bones of women's lingerie. He left little to the imagination, again giving the appearance of n

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