We take a look behind the scenes and talk to the woman responsible for the 33 wigs used in The Bodyguard, The Musical, writes Cameron Pine.
International award winning hit musical The Bodyguard has come to Australia, beginning in Sydney and then moving on to Brisbane and Melbourne, and it’s popular performances have seen an impressive array of hair and make up changes.
We chatted with head Wigmaker and backstage expert Linda Cowell about what it takes to keep hair fabulous throughout a musical for more than 25 adult cast members.
In particular Paulini (the leading lady playing Rachel Marron) and the ensemble girls required several hair changes – with more than 8 hours of handwork per wig sometimes spent to perfect the look. In particular for this production it was important for the hair to have a more modern look and not a traditional 1940s style finger wave like a lot of musicals.
“Paulini in particular has to fall backwards into the arms of the boys and through various singing and dancing scenes so we have to ensure the wigs do not move,” Linda said.
“We use glue on the laces of the wigs to hold it in place – it’s called spirit gum. It has been used in the industry forever as the most reliable way to ‘set hair’ in a very different way to the way you would in a hair salon or with hair product,” laughs Linda.
The second hero product of choice are geisha pins – the strongest most reliable pins around. “Geisha pins are very thick and are the only way to secure a wig for a production like The Bodyguard. Guests want to be entertained the entire way through the production so there’s no room for error or messy unkempt hair,” Linda said.
“Backcombing, backcombing and more backcombing definitely becomes your best friend in this kind of work and lots and lots of hairspray to keep the wigs in place. The boys have mostly a wet-look gel to keep their shape – contrary to belief, hair simply cannot move on set. I think sometimes people expect it to be their natural hair without realizing that natural hair has too many limitations in theatre work,” she said.
Leading the cast is the fabulous Paulini as Rachel Marron, with Kip Gamblin as bodyguard Frank Farmer, Prinnie Stevens as Nicki Marron and Emily Williams as the Alternate Rachel Marron. Andrew Hazzard (Spring Awakening) plays Sy Spector, Patrick Williams (Hair) is Bill Devaney, Brendan Irving (The Rocky Horror Show) plays the Stalker, Damien Bermingham (Chicago) is Tony, and Glaston Toft (Jersey Boys) plays Ray Court.
There’s also an ensemble cast of almost two dozen that can’t be forgotten – one of the biggest productions to hit Sydney this year.
Based on the Warner Bros hit movie which starred Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, The Bodyguard has been hailed as ‘London’s Best Musical’ by UKs Magic FM, and ‘The Hottest Ticket in Town’ by The Sunday Mirror and judging by the success of the Sydney season so far, the Australian production has certainly intrigued the Australian public– with singing talents worthy of international acclaim.
Linda has worked in London’s West End and trained at the London College of Fashion in Oxford Circus. Having worked on various other musicals and productions including Faulty Towers, King Kong, The Forum with Geoffrey Rush – she says to do the job is one part problem solver and one part talents with styling hair.
The next part is the fit with make up – this year sponsored by MAC Cosmetics, Linda consulted closely with the make up team to ensure each look created exactly the right mood for the production.
There are three others on the team assisting Linda – two ladies who do all the changes in between scenes and one who assists. They change the wigs sometimes from hair-down to an up-style. “The important thing is the speed to change through the shows. One minute we are a hair and make up artist, the next more like a waitress. You have to be a quick thinker, move on your feet and enjoy the adrenaline and energy of a live show environment. You have to keep in mind the audience only sees the actual scene in the show as it were,” Linda said.
Each wig also requires maintenance, with four or five hours in rollers and set with hairspray. For The Bodyguard it was important to create more of a modern look and as such as Linda described, “We do lots of different techniques with hair tongs and hairdryers to achieve a bespoke look.”
“We even set in rollers and bake some wigs in the oven. Before a variety of gels, serums and cans and cans of hairspray to finish,” she said.
The life of a freelancer is forever changing but what Linda loves about theatre work is its seasonality – whereby you are fairly set for a season of 3-4 months before doing something completely different again.
“Basically when you work freelance there is so much different stuff you do. This show is a more modern and contemporary take on tradition theatre. You meet lots of creative people from all over the world and very interesting backgrounds,” Linda said.
It’s not all fun and games, in rehearsal weeks Linda and her team will spend 70 plus hours refining the wigs after seeing what is and isn’t working so well. All wigs are custom made by a wig maker in Sydney from individual head measurements of each cast member. “The wig maker shapes and makes the perfect hairline for each wig – it then comes to me and we cut and colour the hair in the way that the designer wants.
This particular show followed the same design line as the show in the UK but, “We’ve adapted it to work here, to give it an update and make it a bit more modern – to be more open and free thinking,” Linda said.
As Linda concludes, “There’s a real psychology behind it. You consult to each individual and really get to know them, it’s very rewarding and a great industry, but definitely not glamorous.”
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