"We ended up in a situation that was a little too close to reality in terms of simulating all of the tension of a John Waters movie. We got to a cul de sac, it was kind of a dead end, and we were in the middle of what looked like some kind of shady transaction," Rockwell recalls. "It was incredible that you just turned one corner and we were in this very dangerous little cul de sac." That's one bit of research that won't be showing up on stage.
"Oh, dear," mutters Paul Huntley, catching his breath. The septuagenarian British gentleman is sitting in the living room of his Upper West Side townhouse, leafing through pictures of women with titles like "Fantasy," "Intrigue" and "Baby Doll."
He's doing research. Really he is.
The pages come from a 1960s book of hairstyles called Mr. Ray & His Magic Brush, essential research supplied by John Waters for the Broadway musical being adapted from his movie, Hairspray.
Huntley is Broadway's top wig man. His stage credits include 400 shows, from Chekhovian plays to Cats, from Shakespearean tragedies toThe Producers. Stars such as Glenn Close, Elizabeth Ashley and Christopher Plummer wouldn't think of using anyone else. On television, his work can be seen on The Sopranos; on film, his wigs were worn by Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie and Jennifer Lopez in the newly released Enough. Way back when, he worked with Marlene Dietrich.
Usually Huntley creates wigs that look natural, that don't cause comment, that blend in nicely. "I prefer when it's not a great feature," he says.
Not this time. After all, as producer Margo Lion told him, "It is Hairspray."
With the help of three assistants, Huntley makes his wigs by hand in his basement studio, where shelves display wig blocks custom-made to the proportions of everyone from Carol Channing to Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman. The warren of small rooms also contains a drying cabinet for wigs, a standard washer and dryer, worktables and assorted Broadway show posters. And then, of course, there's the hair -- box upon plastic box filled with red, blond and brunette strands. Huntley prefers human hair, most of which comes from Russia.
Each of the 70 wigs for Hairspray took Huntley and his chief assistant four days to make. To achieve the realistic hairlines for which he is known, Huntley sews each strand individually into nearly transparent netting. Wigs made of human hair cost $1,800-$2,500 per wig; synthetic wigs cost $120-$350.
The designer had to relearn a few skills for this show. "Today, of course, we've all forgotten how to tease," he explains. "And it is a lot of teasing."
While big hair is a major feature of Hairspray, Huntley emphasizes, "We're not trying to make people grotesque. They're very young performers, and they have to have a sweetness and a glamour at the same time."
Nonetheless, the oversized 'do worn by the show's teen-aged protagonist, Tracy (Marissa Jaret Winokur), brands her a "hair hopper" and lands her in high school detention with the rest of the hair hoppers. To heighten the humor in one of Tracy's wigs -- a puffy flip with frosted bangs, Huntley has designed a frosted blue ribbon.
He's also built a sly commentary into the wig worn by the villainous character of Velma Von Tussle, mother of Tracy's chief rival. Velma is played by Linda Hart, whose real hair is dark brown. In Hairspray, her shellacked coiffure is light blond, to match that of her daughter Amber, a character Huntley describes as an evil Sandra Dee.
But Huntley has seen to it that Mrs. Von T. isn't a natural blonde. He's given her wig's roots telltale shadowing. "It sort of suggests that she's bleached it," he explains. As to the style, "one shouldn't say it unkindly, but a sort of blond Ann Miller."
For actor Harvey Fierstein, who portrays Tracy's mother, Edna (played on film by Divine), Huntley has created five different wigs beginning with a straggly, mousy number and progressing to auburn lacquered glory after Edna's makeover.
The makeover wig is highlighted with frosting, the front set in a relatively conservative style that used to be called a "bubble." But turn it around, and hello, Baltimore! -- the back is a French twist.
Frosting, French twists, teasing, bubble cuts -- isn't there something missing?
Hairspray, of course.
Huntley rarely uses the stuff anymore, but these days he and his backstage staff of hairdressers are stocking up.