On set of The Playboy Club
NBC’s new Chicago-set series re-creates Hef’s swinging ’60s on a South Side sound stage.
On stage, a sultry, red satin–draped lounge singer bursts through cascading gold streamers, grabs the microphone and dives into Rodgers and Hart’s “The Lady Is a Tramp.” A sexy wrist-flick, a knee peeping out under the dress’s long slit. The chanteuse finishes with a high kick, and the well-coiffed audience bursts into applause.
Even the cameramen and comb-ready hairstylists clap before sheepishly remembering: This is not a live concert—it’s a scene in the taping of NBC’s new drama The Playboy Club where Tony-winner Laura Benanti, playing Bunny mother Carol-Lynne, flawlessly lip syncs to a recording of herself singing the lounge standard.
Between takes a throng of women surrounds Benanti, touching up her hair, makeup and vintage costume. (“We’d like a little more slit, but we’re working on it,” yells one costume designer.) Dozens of camera-ready extras await their scene, some sitting on sleek Barcelona chairs, all clutching fake wine and cigarettes and tapping on their PDAs. Stylists, who dress and coif every glamorous, gold- or black-clad extra, cluster around a bumper-pool table near wood-laminated shelves of records. I feel awkwardly modern standing on the ochre-carpeted, golden-walled set, flanked by two floating spiral staircases to nowhere.
In the last few months, production designer Scott Murphy erected this massive set for the club and, a stone’s throw away, a set for the shag-carpeted Bunny dorm, cluttered with well-placed pink curlers and polyester nighties. It’s hard to believe this soundstage with 50-foot ceilings—part of a huge Douglas Park complex called Cinespace Chicago Film Studios—functioned until recently as Ryerson, a working steel plant. Cinespace’s first tenants moved in this May; Playboy Club’s first day was July 26.
I find Murphy near the faux coatroom eying drawings of a space-age lamp that will hang in a bachelor pad belonging to the lead character, lawyer Nick Dalton, played by Eddie Cibrian. Murphy places the schemas aside and tells me about the opulent set’s humble beginnings: While scouting sites in February for the show’s pilot, he stumbled upon a modern relic, the Meigs Field airport terminal. He says Meigs’s floating staircase—which resembles that of the original Playboy Club—became the inspiration for the set. “The staircase captures the feel of a place where people are supposed to look at other floors,” Murphy says about the voyeuristic nature of the club.