In the first of our two-part glimpse at what goes on in the Phantom’s makeup chair, we’re taking a peek into the dressing rooms of London’s Phantom Ramin Karimloo and Las Vegas’s Anthony Crivello, as well as looking into the cosmetics bags of their makeup artists…

The Phantom mask is arguably the most iconic musical theatre image of all time, instantly recognisable as the symbol of The Phantom of the Opera all over the world. Conversely, what is hidden behind the mask has traditionally been a closely guarded secret, and images showing the extent and detail of the Phantom‘s disfigurement have very rarely been seen.

Why is this? Tanya Noor, make up artist at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London believes this was largely due to the direction of Maria Bjornson, the original Production Designer who was justifiably protective of the copyright. Ron Wild, who was called in to redesign the make up for the opening of Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular in 2006 adds, “The mask is only removed for a relatively short time so it really has to have some impact.” It is the anticipation of the unknown which heightens this pivotal moment.

Ron knows all about impact. When the Las Vegas creative team were designing a completely new production for the state of the art, purpose-built venue, it was the perfect opportunity to revisit the Phantom make up, which had remained largely unchanged for the 20 years since the show opened. With his experience in the film industry, Ron was the perfect candidate to explore how prosthetics and paint could be used for maximum effect in a much larger auditorium.

Although the finished effect does vary considerably between the old and new, the transformation process is very similar, as can be seen when sitting in on this process for the London and Las Vegas productions.

In both shows, the cornerstone underpinning the entire look is the skull, or bald, cap. Formerly made in house, the skin tight head covering is now purchased commercially. Tanya remembers the task of creating a minimum of eight caps each week in a small room at the top of Her Majesty’s. Improvements in the quality of the commercial caps available have now made it possible to purchase these but fitting, trimming and gluing the cap to the head still takes considerable time and effort.

In Vegas, with the heat from a hairdryer moulding the cap even closer to the skull, Ron explains: “Everything is based on the skull cap so if it fails the whole make up fails.” In Las Vegas on a “two show” day the shows are virtually back to back, leaving no time to remove and reapply makeup in the break. As Anthony Crivello, the Phantom in Las Vegas, says – “I have to have this thing on for 5 hours.”

Although in London the longer break between the afternoon and evening performances allows for the makeup to be taken off and redone, the show itself is longer, so it is just as well the prosthetics which are then applied to the face and cap are soft and malleable. Each of these pieces is made from a foam latex which is very light and allows for movement, obviously vital when the wearer also needs to able to sing!

Both Ramin Karimloo (Phantom, London) and Anthony Crivello agree that the prosthetics which cover a substantial part of the mouth and nose are not a hindrance to their performance. Anthony says, “you get used to it within a couple of days at the most. Once you have it on it’s like wearing a glove.” Ramin agrees. “It was never an issue, I feel I was born to wear this it feels so right,” he laughs.

The prosthetics themselves are where the differences are most noticeable.

Ron was given virtually free reign to redesign the make up, drawing from his 25 years experience in film. “What was really good was that they would let me do what I wanted, although after 20 years of using the same make up it was kind of hard for them to digest what I wanted to do”. Ron was aware that the audience expectations from a show which promised “spectacular” effects such as the chandelier and the pyrotechnics, in a much larger theatre called for the effects to be “elevated”. The lighting rigs for the show are by necessity much further away from the stage so the new make up is much more strongly textured and highly painted compared to the traditional make up. “Now you really get the pay off!”

By contrast, in the more intimate confines of Her Majesty’s Theatre, Tanya’s approach has varied little since the first ever show, “I was lucky enough to work with Maria (Bjornson) for all those years she was here. She had an incredible eye for detail and was very precise, but she would occasionally ask us for advice – do you think this looks better, or how would you adapt this to suit a certain face?” The shape of each Phantom’s face dictates how the prosthetics will look. This becomes very evident as Tanya lays Ramin’s prosthetics next to those of the understudies, each clearly labelled. “If I have any ideas I will ask to try something out for a rehearsal, then will watch from the auditorium and see how it looks under the lights”.

Her Majesty’s Theatre London