Props to Broadway Props Masters

Props to Broadway Props Masters

There are only a few performances left before the Broadway revival of You Can't Take It With You closes on Sunday, Feb. 22. Don't let this warm and hilarious show, or its brilliant Erector set model of the Queen Mary ocean liner (right), slip away.

George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s 1936 script is specific: For a few minutes, an Erector set model of the Queen Mary, while having no dialogue, takes center stage. So, how did Peter Sarafin, YCTIWY’s production properties coordinator, do it?

“I made sure to use all vintage parts,” he says. “I trolled eBay for weeks, trying to find an actual set of the Queen Mary, because I know they existed. But I couldn’t find one. So, I started buying up random Erector sets. I got about 10. I then found real pictures of the ship and just put it together, piece by piece. It was fun, but it took a long time. About seven or eight hours. I must have taken it apart and reassembled it eight or nine times. I kept thinking, how would I do this if it were Lego?”

At one point, director Scott Ellis wanted the Queen Mary to be bigger. “Guess what?” Sarafin told him. “I’m out of pieces.”

Sarafin also had to make sure the Queen was actor-friendly. When an actor affixes a smokestack (supposedly) using a tiny screwdriver, wrench and bolts, it’s a case of pure theater magic: Sarafin epoxied several magnets to the frame, and the actor easily clicks the smokestack in place.

“Magnets, zip ties and Velcro save my life,” says Sarafin, who is responsible for what he calls the show’s “mountains and mountains of set dressing.” He spent three weeks on the road, traveling as far away as Ohio to find the show’s props and furniture. Luckily, he grew up going to flea markets with his mother. He also made the papier-mâché mask of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Other shows this season for which Sarafin has done the props are A Delicate Balance, Fish in the Dark and On the Twentieth Century. His favorite show? Without hesitation: The Book of Mormon. “Exactly my humor and a great experience,” he says.

While Sarafin made and/or found YCTIWY’s props, maintaining them eight shows a week falls to Richard Klinger, properties head, whose first Broadway show was the 2012 revival of Glengarry Glen Ross, starring Al Pacino. A lot of props were thrown around in that show—and had to be repaired.

For You Can’t Take It With You, Klinger arrives at the Longacre Theatre about 5:30 p.m. to allow himself an hour and a half to set up the show from the previous day and to make sure that every glass and plate is in the right place for the three table settings in every performance. During scene changes, moving and striking props takes split-second timing. Klinger’s is a well-choreographed job.

Since this is not a show in which actors go easy on the furniture, he uses his experience in Glengarry Glen Ross to constantly repair chairs, found by Sarafin, that are 70 or 80 years old. While there’s a pyrotechnician on staff, whose sole job is to look after the fireworks that go off onstage, Klinger’s the guy who has to clean up the tremendous amount of dust the fireworks stir up.

You Can't Take It With You is a show about a big and big-hearted extended family. That family feeling extends to the props. Everyone in the cast and crew has taken a personal interest in the show’s props and has added something of their own to the set. The skull with horns, for example, was a gift to Klinger from his parents.

As to the food onstage, especially in the last scene with its plates of blintzes, everything is a prop made by Sarafin. The only edible edibles are York Peppermint Patty Minis. Not surprisingly, the role of “Gin” at every performance is played by water.

If there’s one concern that Klinger has, and it’s more a humanitarian concern than a prop concern, it’s that the cat, which makes an appearance in the first act, doesn’t run away.

You Can't Take It With You, Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St., btw Broadway and Eighth Ave., 212.239.6200, www.youcanttakeitwithyoubroadway.com