Behind the Scenes of “A Chorus Line” at UMD: How Styling Completes a Show
By Alayna Brandolini
November 30, 2022
Image Credit: 32 Bars
A lot goes into putting on a theater production, but one aspect of the show often goes unrecognized: styling. Skillful and intentional hair, makeup and costume can complete a character and solidify how the audience perceives them.
Senior Nicole Panebianco knows this firsthand, as the head costume designer for 32 Bars, a musical performance troupe at the University of Maryland.
Panebianco, a theater and psychology double major, has been busy finalizing the cast's hair, makeup and costume looks for their production of "A Chorus Line," set to premiere on Sunday, December 3.
According to Stage Agent, “A Chorus Line” is a 1975 musical about a group of dancers who are auditioning for a Broadway show. Throughout the rigorous audition process, the dancers share their backstories and how they ended up auditioning for the show.
“The plot of ‘A Chorus Line’ follows around 10 characters and them going through the audition process,” explains freshman politics, philosophy and economy major Ethan Hobbs, who plays Mark in the musical.
Makeup used in shows and musicals is quite different from everyday makeup. Stage makeup is meant to emphasize the natural features of the face under harsh stage lights. Stage makeup is often thicker and more pigmented than everyday makeup as it is designed to be seen from afar under bright lights, according to Dance Desire.
“With the harsh [stage] lighting on the face, they usually recommend having a foundation that’s darker than your skin tone,” says freshman psychology major Madison Blaustein, who plays Maggie, a sweet, timid dancer, in the show. “Blush and bronzer is a must,” she adds, “because if not, when those lights hit you, you’ll look like a ghost.”
There’s more to stage makeup than just making the actors look good, though. Artists utilize makeup as a tool to further develop the characters.
The way the characters of “A Chorus Line” present themselves on stage, whether by flaunting a smoky eye or natural makeup and a touch of lip gloss, convey their personalities to the audience.
“Everything about what a person is wearing says something about their character,” explains Panebianco. “How they look visually on stage is going to tell people something about them: where did they come from? What is their income level? How do they present themselves?”
The female characters’ makeup and costumes seem to correlate with their personalities. The shy characters, such as Maggie and Judy, wear light makeup and pastel colors, whereas more promiscuous characters, such as Sheila and Val, don heavy makeup and bold colors.
“[Maggie] is on the younger end, she’s 25, she’s not very showy, she doesn’t like attention,” says Blaustein, “so she’ll definitely be wearing light makeup.”
Panebianco was also intentional with the costume choices for each character.
“The character Connie, her big thing is that she’s really short, she feels like people don’t take her seriously,” Panebianco says, “so I have her in a striped leotard because sometimes people wear vertical stripes to make them look taller.”
Panebianco utilized costumes to create visual connections between characters as well. Though the audience may not realize it, she sets up a connection between two characters, Zach and Cassie, by coordinating their outfits.
The complex romantic history of Zach and Cassie is revealed slowly throughout the show, but viewers might notice a connection in their costumes before realizing why.
“I have Cassie in a bright red dress, and then I have Zach, who, under his sweater has a red button-up, and you can see the collar,” Panebianco states.
Polished, well-thought-out hair, makeup and costumes are often the final step in the full development of a character.
“A lot of the time, the characters don’t fully develop until right before the show during tech week when we’re running the show every night in our full hair and makeup,” says Hobbs., “All of the parts just add up to make a full character.”
Getting into hair, makeup and costume can also serve as a confidence booster for actors.
“When you know that you’ve done all the work, and now it’s the day of the show, and you’re all done up, it's like, OK, I’m about to do this!” Blaustein explains. “You don’t want to go on stage looking like you do every day, you do want to stand out and have that appearance that you want.”
Costume, hair and makeup styling play an incredibly important role in theater productions. Proper styling adds dimension and visual appeal to a show and helps to create whole, developed characters.
See 32 Bars’ production of “A Chorus Line” on Saturday, December 3 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, December 4 at 1:30 pm and 7:30 pm in the Colony Ballroom in the Stamp Student Union.