In the Phantom makeup chair: part two

Read the first part of our peek into the Phantom‘s makeup bag here.

We’re in the dressing room with Tanya Noor, Phantom London’s makeup artist; Ron Wild from Phantom Las Vegas; and the two Phantoms – Ramin Karimloo (London) and Anthony Crivello (Las Vegas).

For both the Las Vegas and London productions the prosthetics are made individually for each actor playing Phantom. Chris Tucker, who devised the original make up with Maria Bjornson, still makes each of the pieces for the London production. “He begins by taking a head cast [of the actor],” Tanya Noor explains, “then he sculpts the deformity onto the head, and then makes the foam latex pieces from it”. The head cast, complete with the applied pieces, is then supplied to Bob Saunders who makes the mask to fit over the cast and prosthetics.

The basic shape of the mask has never changed, but sometimes if there are lighting changes they may require slightly different shading or “tweaking”.

“As long as the masks don’t get dropped or trodden on – some of the Christines are more gentle with them than others! – they can last for each Phantom’s entire run,” Tanya says.

Not so the prosthetics. Each piece is used only once. Both Ron Wild and Tanya prepare them by sealing with a mixture of acrylic paint and glue which is then allowed to dry. They are then painted in painstaking detail. The process for each set of pieces takes a couple of hours. A stock of prepared pieces for the Phantom and understudies are kept ready prepared. Tanya likes to keep a week’s worth ready. “But you can’t keep them too long because the colours fade after a while.”

The process varied when Michael Crawford played the role. “For most of his run they didn’t prepaint the pieces, he liked them being painted once they had put them on him which is why his make up took so long.”

But even with the pieces thus prepared their application is still a time consuming process. The pieces are glued individually, with the smallest piece, the “lip” going on last. Then the uncovered half of the face is made up, blending into the wafer thin edges of the prosthetics.

In Las Vegas, JD, The Production Stage Manager, pokes his head around the door. An inquisitive raising of the eyebrows is sufficient for Ron to confirm that everything is on track and the show can begin. Obviously this is the last chance to hold the curtain should anything be amiss in the make up process.

But the atmosphere in both dressing rooms is remarkably calm considering that, as Ron puts it, “When Tony [Crivello, who plays The Phantom in Las Vegas] leaves this chair that’s it. And if something happens to fail on the make up there is no time to touch it up.”

Has the curtain ever had to be held due to a make up malfunction? JD shakes his head, proudly announcing that that evening’s show is “30 seconds late”, with a wry smile.

But Tanya remembers a situation where one of the Phantom’s had to go home at the last minute and there was no cover in the building. “Luckily although the cover lived in Guildford he owned a motor bike so he raced in and we had 12 minutes to get him into make up!” It was a case of summoning the troops as Tanya called on all her assistants. “Luckily the mask doesn’t come off until the end so we managed to get him sorted out for the first act and just continued to add bits to the make up throughout the show.”

Emergency repairs throughout the show are routine. Tony says, “You can imagine that inside this rubber skull cap you sweat and something may come loose so he [Ron] is back there doing Frankenstein’s surgery on the back of my head. Literally! It’s amazing!”

Tanya points out that it’s generally just “maintenance” during the show. During the first half the Phantom has time to come back to the dressing room between appearances, but during the second act, “I just follow him around backstage with glue and powder and spare bits and pieces just in case the edges come adrift.”

The tannoy confirms that now the show is in full swing and the make up is virtually complete as the “alopecia” wig is glued to the skull cap. As with the prosthetics and mask, the wigs are individually made for each actor.

Both this wig and the “full” wig which is glued on top are made from real hair. “We are very lucky with the wigs on Phantom,” says Tanya, “they are incredible quality, which makes a big difference. Some shows use acrylic wigs”.

So an hour after the actor sits in the chair, the transformation into the Phantom is complete. The finished effect is astonishing. The whole shape of the face has changed and both actors are completely unrecognisable. Tony confirms this. “My mother has seen me in virtually every role I have done since I was in high school, but when she came to see this she said she could normally watch me in character and recognise me, but she had a very hard time finding her son in the Phantom.” He nods at Ron, tidying his brushes away ready to begin the process again tomorrow, “My face is the canvas, this guy is an artist!”

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