Easter Bonnets and Playing Dress-up on the Set of Vegas

On the set of “Vegas” with Margie Barron.

On the set of “Vegas” with Margie Barron.

The joy of putting on an Easter bonnet takes me back to happy days as a little girl in the early ’60s. So imagine my delight when the costume department of the CBS drama Vegas handed me a gorgeous blue hat, along with a vintage Sunday-best dress to wear when I was an “atmosphere player” on the set last week.

Yes, I jumped at the chance to play dress-up when I had the opportunity to be an extra on Vegas. It’s easily the most stylish show on the air, equal to Mad Men if you have a passion for retro fashions and appreciate the impeccable details that go into recreating a bygone era.

Almost every young lady I saw on the set was wearing a chic hat and outfit, accented with divine jewelry and gloves. But no one could have loved the experience more than I did. Skilled make-up artists applied eyeliner, mascara and painted my lips a bright matted red. Plus hair professionals styled a French curl updo that I haven’t seen since my first prom. The fastidious job by the pros was to ensure that the director could shoot a close-up of anyone on the set for any scene. Every episode of the show is a work of art because of their efforts. The production definitely has a big screen quality to it.

Even before I got to visit the set, I was impressed by Vegas since its debut this fall. Now the show is even better with surprising plot twists that go beyond the simple premise of local Nevada rancher turned Sheriff Ralph Lamb (Dennis Quaid) clashing with wise guy Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis), who works for the Chicago mob bosses gaining a foothold in the Las Vegas casino business in 1961.

The stellar supporting cast, which includes Jason O’Mara, Carrie-Anne Moss, Sarah Jones, and Taylor Handley, now has meatier storylines added to the mix. And there are lots of surprises to look forward to when the drama settles into its new Friday night slot at 9 p.m. starting April 5.

Vegas takes you back to an interesting time full of great characters who strolled down Fremont Street in old Las Vegas circa early ’60s. The casinos were filled with dazzling showgirls, well-coiffed elegantly dressed women, and men in sharp suits wearing fedoras or cowboy hats. And I took my place among them as an atmosphere player, sometimes portraying a gambler or seen as a pedestrian. It was fun. Even as some scenes were reshot over and over, I never lost my enthusiasm. That’s probably due to the 2nd ADs and production assistants on the show. They were great to work with and made me (and every extra) feel like an important part of the production.

Based at the Santa Clarita Studios, Vegas has been busy building up its sets since the first episode. The casinos of the era and Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas have been recreated and executive producer Greg Walker is proud of the enormous care that has gone into the Savoy Casino set. “We started with a big empty sound stage, and in five short weeks our production designer Carey Meyer realized his vision. There is a multi-layered environment both inside the casino and outside on Fremont Street, which was the start of what Vegas became.”

Walker said that executive producer Nick Pileggi, writer of the classic mob films Goodfellas and Casino, knew Vegas in the 1960s and called the production’s set “a time capsule.” Carey’s attention to details such as the “atomic lights” of the era, the curves in the furniture designs, the upholstery on the chairs, and over 10,000 feet of neon set the mood. The retro series utilizes vintage slot machines and classic cars, along with makeup, hair, and costume departments dedicated to the authenticity of the drama.

All of that would be nothing without great storytelling and intriguing characters who deal with corruption and dangerous outside influences, from the mob as well as Hollywood. Plus some romance is thrown in for good measure. With all that going for it, CBS would be smart to gamble on a second season for Vegas.

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