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Bringing Light to the Dark

Bryan Reesman • Costuming/Makeup • September 1, 2010

The main characters of The Addams Family.

 Angelina Avallone brings ghosts to life for The Addams Family

No one can deny that The Addams Family musical starring Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth looks fantastic, from the impressively elaborate sets to the sophisticated, multi-layered makeup from Broadway veteran Angelina Avallone. While other makeup artists might have settled for a basic pale Goth look without too many flourishes, Avallone spent time developing looks and distinguishing between different sets of characters. "I feel that it's a very strong show with a fantastic cast and an A-list creative team," declares Avallone. "I love the puppetry. I think Basil Twist did an incredible job with the puppets. The costumes are great. I think the house is beautiful. The scenery changes are quite magical. It's a fun visual show, and it was great fun working on it."

Angelina Avallone, makeup designer for The Addams Family on Broadway.

After initially reading the script, Avallone's first interview was with the show's original British co-directors, Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, who developed the production and handled its pre-Broadway run in Chicago. They looked at Charles Addams' original black-and-white drawings for inspiration, and both directors felt strongly that they should stay as true to those images as possible in creating the look for the show. But there were ultimately three sets of characters that Avallone had to create makeup for: the Addams Family, the "vanilla" Beneike clan from Ohio (whose son Lucas falls for Wednesday Addams and spurs the conflict in the story) and the ghostly Ancestors to the Addams clan.

"Essentially there is the world of the Addams, who think that they are normal-whatever that ‘normal' is," explains Avallone. "The palette for the Addams family is they dress in dark clothes. It's pretty monochromatic, and there is not a lot of color. The only color in the makeup is in Morticia's red lips. They are all pale and pretty much spend time in the house. Wednesday is homeschooled. The palate is very specific for the Addams: pale, not a lot of color, a lot of beige, a lot of taupe, some brown, some black eyeliner. Then there are the normal people from Ohio, the Beinekes, who are quite colorful. Mrs. Beineke wears yellow. They have bright colors, are very tan and are certainly the all-American couple. We wanted to create a contrast between Wednesday and Lucas Beineke. He's tan and rosy, and she's very pale with shadowy eyes and dark hair."

Then there is the world of spirits, the Ancestors, who are only visible to the Addams. New York co-director Jerry Zaks wanted to make sure that the audience knew who they were. "They were very distinctive looking, and he felt that they should be white," says Avallone. "The makeup and the clothing palette for the Ancestors was white, shades of gray and only cool tones. For their makeup, clothing and hair, the colors used were dark blue, green and purple, so everything was blue-based. For example, we used pale blue lipstick. For eyebrows we didn't use black or brown; we used gray, blue or purple. We had purple eyeliner and the shading for blush was purple and greys, and each of those Ancestors represented a certain time period. The time of their death."

There were many different ancestors: a bride who died sometime in the early part of the 20th century, a flapper girl, a Victorian lady, an American Indian and a caveman, among others. "We have the flight attendants from the ‘50s. We have the Conquistador from Gomez's part of the family. Then we have the American side. All of those people are very specific, and behind each makeup we talked to each actor when we had our makeup session. We tried to create a story behind the look, so we did something specific to each actor. There's something quirky and specific about their look connecting them to who they were and how they died."

 

“We used pale blue lipstick. For eyebrows we didn’t use black or brown; we used gray, blue or purple. We had purple eyeliner and the shading for blush was purple and greys.” Angelina Avallone

Family Portraiture

Beyond the three worlds of the play, there are the principal characters in the titular clan of the show. Most striking is Morticia with her dark black hair, who is "very elegant, very sexy, impeccable," describes Avallone. "She looks beautiful all the time. She's the kind of person who always looks glamorous and beautiful. There is Pugsley, who is pale, with little shadows around his eyes, the kind of kid who spends a lot of time at home in the attic. He doesn't see the sun very often. Uncle Fester looks very much like the drawing-little shadowy eyes and very pale. He doesn't wear a bald cap; he actually shaved. His entire head is powdered, his hands are made up and his lips are dark. Then we have Lurch. We didn't use prosthetics for his face; everything was done with makeup. He wears kind of a grayish pancake base. He's a butler of an uncertain age who's half-dead. We gave him an asymmetrical look with one eye half closed, bags under his eyes and lips that are gray. His hands are made up."

“We made two prosthetic moles for Grandma, one on her nose and another on her chin. Her pancake is very pale and a has little bit of yellow, so there is no color. She wears a wild, gray wig, almost a white wig. She has special eyebrows made for her. We aged her hands. We actually aged her quite a bit with makeup.” Angelina Avallone

The character of Grandma is more of an enigma in this musical than the rest of the Addams clan because no one truly knows who she is. She may be Morticia's mother or Gomez's mother. She may not even be related to the family at all. "Grandma's about 103, and she's suffering from all kinds of ailments," states Avallone. "We made two prosthetic moles for Grandma, one on her nose and another on her chin. Her pancake is very pale and a has little bit of yellow, so there is no color. There is very little color in any of the family. We don't use blush. We just use shading to sculpt their faces, to give the actors' faces structure and definition. The family skin tones are all shades of pale ivory, yellow-based ivory or gray-based ivory. I aged Jackie Hoffman significantly for the role of Grandma. She wears a wild, gray wig, almost a white wig. She has special eyebrows made for her. We aged her hands. We actually aged her quite a bit with makeup."

The Addams who stands out in his look is Gomez, who is darker than everybody else because he was darker in Charles Addams' original drawings. "Nathan Lane's hair was darkened, as were his mustache and eyebrows. He's the only one who has tan makeup and the only one with some color. Wednesday's pale. She looks like her mother."

 

For the chorus of ancestors, all the looks and colors were blue-based for a cool, time of death look.

Creating that Undead Zest

While Avallone can easily recite the different looks, how they were created and how they all interact with other elements in the show, it was a long process getting to that final point. Avallone worked hard with associate make-up designer Jorge Vargas to create just the right look.

The show was originally staged in Chicago during the last quarter of 2009. Right before they left for Chicago, the cast and Avallone had to do a photo shoot for Vanity Fair in October. So while her team was working on creating a look for the show, they also had to figure out how to adapt it for the magazine. As Avallone notes, "What works for a big house in Chicago doesn't necessarily work in front of a camera. The look, of course, was the look of the Addams Family."

Makeup designer Angelina Avallone works on the makeup for Lurch.

During the five-week tech and out-of-town run in the Windy City, Avallone got to see the ensemble in costume, hair and makeup under stage lights for the first time, "and the process began. The actors performed in Chicago until the end of December, and then we came back to New York to a smaller space, the Lunt-Fontanne, as most Broadway houses are smaller than the spaces out of town. We had to adjust some of the looks for a New York theatre space. There were some changes, as there are always changes with new musicals. The Ancestors costumes changed, and the idea of the Ancestors becoming white came up. That was the big change in New York. Originally they were dark colors, and the makeup was a different palette. It was very neutral, but they weren't white. That was a big change for us, and it was the entire ensemble."

Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane prepping for cast photos.

Once the show was set, they started creating the makeup bible for the final looks of the show. "There's a lot of work that goes into prepping a show," stresses Avallone. "We have lessons with the actors, we have tech, we see people under stage lights during tech. We get notes, we give ourselves notes. It's a learning process for the actors, so we give them a lot of notes as well, and it's an ongoing teaching and rethinking of the show. Once the show is set and we've made all the changes, we go to the makeup bibles and re-edit them. We take final photographs of the actors, revise their makeup charts and everything gets documented and put in books and binders."

In the meantime, each and every actor is given a makeup kit with all of their colors and all of their brushes, pencils and charts with their changes and their understudy looks, because once the show look is established, the makeup team has to go back and work with the understudies. "You either create new looks, or if you're covering a certain role, you need to look at that actor who is covering somebody else in their wig and costume." Oftentimes some adjustments and modifications need to be made for an understudy actor's face, depending upon their skin tone and proportions as compared with the principals.

"There are usually two covers for each principal, so it's like doing the show two or three times," remarks Avallone. "There's a lot of organizational work that goes into creating and running a Broadway show. It's kind of an ongoing process, and as the show runs and people start to leave the show and you have swings and new actors coming in, we have to continue the process. I continue to meet with new people or swings. As we go into the second year of the show, I'm sure I'll be meeting with new cast members as well."

 

The Addams family ancestors. Because so much makeup and body makeup was required for the chorus, extensive testing on different types of makeup was done to ensure there would be no ill effects for the actors.

Shades of the Past

With every production comes a new learning experience. Having this be her first Addams Family show was already something new, but it was also very challenging for Avallone to take the drawings, most of which are in black-and-white, and imagining what the colors would be. "That was challenging, finding the might makeup products and the right shades," she notes. "You have to be very disciplined in your choices of color. The color palette is so specific. And then finding out what works under the stage lights."

Lurch uses a grayish pancake base, which makes the blue veins pop.

Avallone adds that with the ensemble, it was really challenging to find the right white for the Ancestors-the right shade of white, the right foundation, the right texture that would stay on, because a lot of the ensemble women also wear body makeup. This became an issue as some of them partner with principals who wear dark colors, so they had to make sure that the white makeup didn't transfer onto the costumes. "That's always tricky, finding the right balance, finding the right colors, finding the right texture and finding what stays on," reveals Avallone. "And what's comfortable for the actors, because it's not a movie, it's eight shows a week. You check with each and every actor to see if they have any kinds of skin sensitivities. If they're allergic to something, you have to make sure that you find the right product for everybody. We researched every company that puts out a white powder and white liquid makeup, water-based makeup, and we tested that."

The makeup palette for the Addams family members is very monochromatic, with only the impeccable, glamorous Morticia (Bebe Neuwirth), featuring a jot of color thanks to her ruby lips.

A lot of research and testing went into creating the look for The Addams Family.  Further, prosthetics were used for the understudies because the actors understudying for Uncle Fester and Lurch are part of the ensemble and thus have hair. "Uncle Fester shaves his head, but his cover has hair, so for the covers we had to create the makeup using bald caps," says Avallone. "That involved prosthetic makeup and rubber mask grease, and the effect has to be the same. That's part of what happens on Broadway. Sometimes you may not be using prosthetics for the principal actors, but you may end up using prosthetics for bald caps for the understudies."

Unlike some of the characters, who required some translation into color, Uncle Fester looks very much like his ink drawing.

Beyond first establishing the look of The Addams Family, The Ancestors were definitely very challenging for Avallone and her team, particularly with the white makeup, which can often be very flat. "We had to make sure how the makeup was shaded," adds Avallone. "Their tombstones were part of the scenery, because they had just come out of the crypt, so we wanted the Ancestors almost to look like statues and blend in with the tombstones. They're very sculptural looking. The costumes were shaded, so the makeup had to almost be fluid and work with the costumes. We didn't want them to look like actors wearing white costumes with some white makeup on, but we wanted that fluid connection between the costumes and the past. So that's what we did."

 

 

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