Musicals. You either love them or you hate them, right? Well, we’re not ashamed to say that us Topshop girls are serious musical addicts. And when it comes to some of our favourites, Wicked has got to be right up there with the best. It’s a story that’s been told over and over again, through the fantastical and trippy 1939 Wizard of Oz to this year’s star-studded Oz: The Great and Powerful. For us however, the most compelling take on L. Frank Baum’s classic tale just has to be Stephen Schwartz’s musical version, Wicked.
It’s an unlikely twist on the story to say the least and follows the Wicked Witch of West — before she got stuck with the nickname — heading off to university, going to her first party, finding friends and falling head over heels for a jock. Well, that’s the first half anyway, the rest is a vibrant assault on the senses, awe-inspiring sets and songs that make you tear up. N surprise there then that Wicked’s been successfully running since 2003, breaking box office records and reaping in the awards. Top notch cast and soaring score aside, what stands out for us is the grand costumes, standout stage make-up and bonkers hair styling.
Being the curious bunch we are, we headed behind the gilded curtains at the Apollo in Victoria to speak with Jo Nielson, Head of Costume and Wigs, to talk beauty, careers and her favourite characters to make up
Where do all the amazing make-up designs come from?
All the looks have been designed by Susan Hilferty from the Broadway show. She’s created a massive hair and make-up bible that we stick too. Everything is taken from that – what products I use, where I use them and that’s that. You change the make-up to suit the skin tone but generally there’s a design ‘track’. The guy who designed the make-up overall is the very talented John Delulde.
The iconic character is of course the completely green witch, Elphaba. How long does this make-up take?
It’s great making up Elphaba! When you first do it it takes a while to get your head around it. I think now we can get it done in twenty minutes – no time at all really. We use big watercolour brushes with a chromo cake that are so soft, just a few inches wide and you gently feather it on all over. You know exactly what you’re doing and all the Elphaba’s will be just a slightly different shade of green to suit their skin.
Is it tough on the skin using so much make-up everyday?
It’s a water based make-up so it’s not hard on the skin at all. We put a base, foundation, primer on as a barrier. They’ll often steam it off or use Dermological to remove it with their cleansing gel but it doesn’t seem to cause any problems.
How does being a make-up artist and being around make-up all day effect the make-up you wear?
What characters are your favourite to make up?
Madame Morrible [the teacher] has fantastic make-up that’s really exciting. There’s a hazy lavendar base that creates an amazing effect. It involves a lot of shading – it’s a really character-ful makeup. Then this purple goes all over and it really makes them quite wicked looking. When I first saw it, I was dubious the purple would do anything but it works so well with the lights. The show in general for me feels very fashionable , especially the characters in the university scenes, they’re meant to be pretty high end. So big smokey eyes and lots of lipgloss. They’re quite dramatic.
How much do the actors take on from the make-up, does it help their character?
For Morrible, definitely. As soon as she’s put on the costume, she’s arrived! Harriet [current actor playing Morrible] says as soon as her wig’s on she’s there. She does her own make-up now because she loves it so much and takes her time with shading and highlighting too.
What’s your team like?
It’s a huge show so we need alot of hands. All the female ensemble have between a minimum of 5-6 wig changes. There are people changing wigs and make-up looks in the wings too!
How would you encourage wannabe make-up artists to get into the industry?
Go train. Do hair! There’s not enough time in theatre to do everyone’s make-up but you have to do hair. Not many shows have their own make-up department so you have to be able to do hair. It’s not easy. Evenings, 6 days a week, say goodbye to your life! But you’ll develop a new life. Theatre is amazing for having a new family, you get so close with this big group of people because your working hours are so different from everyone else. It’s brilliant and it’s great for the hair and make-up industry too. It will teach you speed which you can’t learn in any other way. The theatre is so much fun.
What part of your job is your favourite?
Doing the show. Being on the shop floor, being there with the changes, seeing it at the side of the stage. Still after years on, it’s exciting everyday. It’s a huge buzz.
See the incredible costumes and make-up for yourself and book tickets for the show at London’s Apollo Victoria theatre now.