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Turning a Wicked shade of green

Published July 31, 2013

“From the second that I was offered the job, that was the thing I kept thinking about, ‘I can’t wait to be green!’” While this may have been told to me by musical theatre star, recording artist and Wicked-regular Louise Dearman, it could have easily been originally penned by myself, given that, along with a vehement love for sausage dogs, it’s something I have very much in common with the actress.

Although it might be a slight exaggeration to suggest being transformed into Wicked’s famously emerald-hued leading lady was the first thought that crossed my mind when I came to work for Official London Theatre sometime back in the noughties, it’s an idea that has come up time and again in feature meetings; we were all determined that one day one of us would experience what is arguably the West End’s most iconic and striking makeover.

Under the watchful and supportive eye of current Elphaba Dearman, and employing the incredible skills of the Olivier Award-winning show’s Head of Wigs and Make Up Polka Pokrzywka, this month saw the editorial dream come true, with Wicked offering us an interactive glimpse behind the scenes, leading us to discover that it takes rather more than a lick of paint and a sweep of lipstick to be made-up into the poster-image of the hit musical.

“I think the make-up is beautiful, it makes you really flawless. I love being green,” Dearman tells me before we begin, and she’s right. Even as soon as the first stage of the makeover is complete, when Pokrzywka covers every inch of my face with the show’s specially created paint – it’s the same texture as face-paint, but feels far lighter when on your skin – I feel unexpectedly comfortable hidden behind the new mask of green.

Applied with a huge artist’s paint brush, Dearman compares the experience to a massage and, as the brush is remarkably soft, it is surprisingly relaxing, the only feeling of squeamishness coming when Pokrzywka spots that in fact not every inch has been covered and touches up any remaining skin-coloured patches with a smaller brush. This includes my ears, demanding a higher level of meditative skill than I possess not to give into the tickling with an unprofessional squirm.

With the paint created specially by cosmetic giant Mac, every detail of the make-up worn by Dearman eight shows a week is the same in Wicked productions around the world, completed to Joe Dulude II’s original Broadway design. But as the make-up varies on different skin tones, Dearman’s first experience of going green was a test to check the shade would match the green ‘skin’ she wears under her spectacular costumes to avoid having to apply make-up on every bit of exposed skin. “They only do half your face, so I literally looked like Elphaba and Glinda, half and half,” she laughs, something Wicked fans will know must have been especially symbolic to the actress given she is the only performer in the world to have played both roles, starring as the glittery, pink witch in the West End production in 2010 before taking on the role of misfit Elphaba from 2012.

The next step of the transformation is about as far from glitter as you can get, blending in the shiny base with a layer of thick greasepaint, causing the real face of Elphaba suddenly to come into focus as the matte accompaniment darkens the green and covers any imperfections of my real – suddenly completely inferior – complexion beneath it. A dusting of seemingly porcelain-coloured, but actually translucent, powder and the green is done. “Just a big green blur! Pea-face,” Dearman jokes, assuring me that the real magic begins with the details to come, all designed to define Elphaba’s features and ensure that from the auditorium, as Dearman describes it, her eyes “pop”.

First up are heavy eyebrows, pencilled in with black. Next, an eye shadow called Purple Haze is used to define not only the eyes, but to give me sharp cheekbones where before there were none. “Purple is your best friend, it’s amazing,” Pokrzywka explains when I tell her I’m surprised to see such a dazzling shade against the green. Dearman is similarly effusive, revealing that, as each performance of the show progresses, her entourage of make-up artists gathered off stage to touch-up her green also make her cheekbones sharper and her make-up darker to correspond with her character’s development.

With the makeover almost complete and the face staring back at me now unrecognisable, it’s time for the final touches. Black lip-liner is applied to the whole of the lips giving the make-up a gothic edge and, to add a touch of glamour, pin-up worthy false eyelashes are glued on, proving Glinda and Elphaba really do have more in common than they may at first glance think.

The whole process has taken 30 minutes, which has sped by chatting to the brilliantly warm Dearman and Pokrzywka, who both seem genuinely fascinated by the process. Even if I hadn’t already been excited to be sitting in a West End dressing room chair, it would have been impossible not to be drawn into their enthusiasm for the art of creating Elphaba. It’s only a quarter of an hour less than Dearman would normally take, adding in time to have her wig fitted – “all my hair is flattened to my head in a stocking cap, which is very attractive!” – but hours less than I’d like it to be.

Realising that I’d have to take off my new-found flawlessly green look – or risk getting some very strange looks on the tube home – is actually quite heartbreaking. In fact, in a moment of Elphaba rebellion, when Pokrzywka takes me through the 10 minute process of removing the layers of paint – an oily cleanser and hot flannel is key – I leave my eyelids her startling green, flawless hue.

Watch a video of the transformation here.

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