This year alone, more than a dozen productions on the Great White Way have had the creative hand of make-up artist extraordinaire Angelina Avallone to thank for their look. Right now, audiences can marvel at her craft in four Broadway shows: Rock of Ages, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Chaplin, and An Enemy of the People (and she's already at work on the Roundabout's upcoming revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood). And even if they don't immediately recognize her contributions, there's a common philosophy to all of Avallone's work.
"I feel make-up is a very interesting art. My approach is really very much from a designer's standpoint," says Avallone, who was born in Bulgaria, performed in children's productions in Europe, and later received an MFA from the Yale School of Drama. "It's not about making someone pretty. It's about creating a character and telling a story. A writer does that with words, an actor with his performance, a make-up designer does it through color and shapes."
She was particularly thrilled to get the call to work on Chaplin, the biomusical of the legendary film star and director (played by Rob McClure), now at the Barrymore Theatre. "I grew up watching Charlie Chaplin movies so I was just thrilled to be offered this show," she says. "I loved silent movies and that particular era and I think he was just a genius. It was so wonderful to be able to tell his life story and work on this very interesting show."
The musical has a unique look: everything—the props, the costumes, and the scenery — is in black, white, and grey, transporting the audience back to the golden age of silent films. As might be expected, subtracting any semblance of color from the actors' faces created somewhat of a challenge for Avallone.
"I had a very strict palette to work with. I put the cast in sheer white make-up and white powder, with black and white eye shadows, white pencils and black pencils and black eye-liner," Avallone reveals. "All shimmers had to be white, all lipsticks had to be black, and nail polish was white or shades of grey."
Ultimately, she assigned each character his or her own shade of pale. "It's almost like you take a photograph and print it in black and white and the colors would translate into a shade of grey," she says. "That's the look I wanted to create."
It's only at the very end of the show, when Chaplin comes back to accept his honorary Academy Award in 1972, that the world changes to color. "That requires a quick makeup change with blush and lipstick of shades of red and pink," Avallone says. "Everything feels colorful and is bright and lovely."
For Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, now in previews at Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, Avallone is dealing with the setting of Norway in the late 1800s. "Since the world of the play is very controlled, the costumes are simple, the design is clean, and I wanted people to look very natural with almost no color," she says.
To accomplish this, Avallone has opted for what's called "a no make-up look," concentrating on skin tones of off-white and sepia and defining the actors' brows and eyes to make the characters more expressionistic. "We do have a drunk in the show and he's made up so he really stands out," Avallone says. "We also have some age makeup so the actors can play the appropriate age."
The production has also allowed Avallone to collaborate with Emmy Award winner Richard Thomas and four-time Tony Award winner Boyd Gaines. Indeed, working with huge stars is a big part of what Avallone does, and whether it's Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, or Matthew Broderick, she knows how to handle such noted luminaries.
"A leading actor usually has strong views and opinions about the character," Avallone says. "A very experienced actor has a strong sense of who they are -- so when I start the process, I start with the story and we have meetings, and we all get on the same page."
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