Behind the Heels, Wigs, and Drag Makeup in Tony-Nominated Musical Kinky Boots

Kinky Boots, the Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, is the story of a drag queen and a shoe factory owner who make some fabulous boots together--and learn a few life lessons in the process. The show is uplifting, and obviously has struck a chord with critics and theater-goers alike, as evidenced by its 13 Tony Award nominations, including one for Best Costume Design. Of course, the costumes, hair, and makeup play a crucial role.
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Kinky Boots, the Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, is the story of a drag queen and a shoe factory owner who make some fabulous boots together--and learn a few life lessons in the process. The show is uplifting, and obviously has struck a chord with critics and theater-goers alike, as evidenced by its 13 Tony Award nominations, including one for Best Costume Design. Of course, the costumes, hair, and makeup play a crucial role.
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Kinky Boots, the Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, is the story of a drag queen and a shoe factory owner who make some fabulous boots together--and learn a few life lessons in the process.

The show is uplifting, and obviously has struck a chord with critics and theater-goers alike, as evidenced by its 13 Tony Award nominations, including one for Best Costume Design. Of course, the costumes, hair, and makeup play a crucial role. The whole team was on-hand last night at a MAC cosmetics event (MAC provides the makeup for the show) to give us the scoop on the ins and outs of drag makeup, the perils of wearing ridiculously high heels and the insane wig upkeep that's necessary in a show like this.

What It's Like to Wear 'Kinky Boots': According to costume designer Gregg Barnes, it took a lot of trial and error to get the shoes sturdy enough to stand up to all the dancing, slam splits, and cartwheels. Lead actor Billy Porter, who plays Lola in the show, is the only one who wears actual stilettos, though, because his boots are almost like another character in the play (fun fact: they take 45 minutes to lace up!); the rest of the company has thicker heels. "I thought we were going to get sued or I was going to have people calling in the middle of the night crying, but nobody did," Barnes said. "I think there’s something about putting [the shoes] on. The moment they do it, it’s a joyous celebration."

Thanks to the beating the footwear takes everyday, Barnes told us the head of wardrobe is at the cobbler every single day. The performers need daily maintenance, too.

There is a physical therapist available daily for the performers, and they all ice their legs and feet as needed. When Porter is getting his makeup done, he wears a toe spacer (those foamy things they put on you when you get a manicure) and some of the actors have portable leg massagers backstage. There's only been one major injury so far. One actor got his heel caught and fell on the on-stage "runway," breaking two toes in the process.

Face chart for an actual stage look.

Face chart for an actual stage look.

The Art and Science of Drag Makeup: Porter, the lead, likes the theater to be warm to protect his voice. Combine that with a whole cast in drag makeup and you potentially have a melting makeup problem. After one of the numbers, makeup designer Randy Houston Mercer estimates that the performers' body temperatures rise to about 103 degrees and they're all dripping sweat. Mercer has to use some pretty heavy duty products. "We start with a primer that is sort of a barrier so it doesn’t sweat through," Mercer said. "We use MAC Studiofix Fluid Foundation, and powder on top."

Porter has his own makeup artist (which he needs because of the frequent transitions he has to make from boy to girl--the longest transition time he has is a scant 11 minutes) but the other guys have become pros at doing their own makeup. And speaking of guys and makeup, shaving is a bit of an issue, too.

"I prefer for them to come to the theater every afternoon or evening and shave then. I’ll give them a medicated moisturizer and you need a good 15 or 20 minutes before you put the barriers [before the foundation] on or it doesn’t stay on well," Mercer said. "And Billy Porter only likes to shave three times a week, so we have a tough time there sometimes!"

Let's Not Forget About the Wigs: No show featuring drag queens would be complete without wigs, and there are a whopping 80 high-maintenance ones in this show--they even have their own dedicated staff. "It’s constant curling. [We can do] pin curl sets to preserve curls, but mostly it’s curling iron work everyday before the show," hair designer Josh Marquette said. "There’s a crew of three people and then Randy’s makeup artist jumps in and helps every now and then. And they’re there four hours before the show."

Click through to see some pictures of the end result of all this hard work.

Photos: Matthew Murphy