Eight times a week, Mariand Torres turns green.
It’s not from envy: Torres plays the role of the witch Elphaba in the North American touring company of “Wicked,” the Broadway musical currently onstage at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre through July 7. Set in the Land of Oz, and based on Gregory Maguire’s novel, the popular show — which opened on Broadway in 2003, and is still playing to packed houses — tells of the unlikely friendship between the blonde, popular witch Glinda and the misunderstood Elphaba, aka the Wicked Witch of the West, who was born with emerald-green skin.
The original Elphaba, Idina Menzel, won a Tony Award for the role in 2004; since then, numerous women have played the role on Broadway, the West End, and on tour — and all of them have stared into a dressing-room mirror while their faces, ears, necks and chests became the color of very, very concentrated pea soup.
Torres and the “Wicked” tour’s makeup supervisor, Joyce McGilberry, recently allowed a few visitors into Torres’ cozy Paramount dressing room to watch the transformation. A sign on the door read: “Do Not Enter: Greening in Progress.”
Having makeup done by an artist every night, Torres said, is in itself unusual; generally Broadway performers, even those in starring roles, do their own makeup, following an approved design. (She’s an experienced Elphaba, having played the role on standby on Broadway and on a previous tour; her performing credits also include the musicals “In Transit” and “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.”)
But the Elphaba look — the show’s trademark — is complex, requiring a professional hand. McGilberry has been touring with “Wicked” and doing Elphaba’s makeup for 13 years now; she works with a calm, quick efficiency.
The process only takes about 15 minutes; generally McGilberry and Torres start a half-hour before the curtain goes up, allowing time afterward for donning a wig and costume. It starts with a layer of regular MAC liquid foundation that Torres applies, “just to protect my skin.” Then McGilberry, using a slightly damp, wide brush that looks like what you might use to paint walls, applies the first layer of green; it’s a vibrant MAC PRO product called Chromacake Landscape Green, a solid water-based cake.
“It’s like clown makeup,” said McGilberry. “It goes on easily.”
Once the first coat is on — making sure no spots are missed behind the ears — McGilberry applies a second layer of green with a smaller brush, bringing out highlights and contours. It’s a slightly different, custom shade, to keep the base color from looking flat. “You don’t want to look like Kermit the Frog,” McGilberry said.
McGilberry then applies a white powder — more of it than you’d think — which disappears as it’s patted into the skin. It serves to dry and set the makeup, so it won’t transfer — though occasionally tiny smudges happen. “Especially if it’s warm and I’m a little sweaty, it’s inevitable,” Torres said. “It’s not visible to the audience. There’s a moment at the end where Glinda and I hug, sometimes she ends up with a little green on her cheek.”
And then come the details: brows, eyeshadow, cheeks (blushing in deep purple), and olive-colored shimmery lips. That’s the Act I face; at intermission, Elphaba’s makeup is made slightly darker and more dramatic, to reflect the older character.
“It’s very similar to doing regular beauty makeup,” said Torres, smiling at her green reflection. “You have your highlights and contours and blush, it’s just all based on a green skin color.”
The final step: greening the hands, with that same big brush. (A sheer green leotard makes her arms and chest match the makeup.) And yes, she can wash her hands or use hand sanitizer — with some touching-up afterward.
The green makeup shade is the exact same for all Elphabas, whether on Broadway or on tour, said McGilberry, unless she is played by a performer with a dark complexion. In that case, a more olive-green color scheme (as opposed to blue-green) works better.
And — the question everyone has — how does it come off? For Torres, it’s a three-step process starting with Neutrogena makeup wipes, which “get off a good amount but still leave me sort of yellowish,” she said. Then she uses a Neutrogena cleanser on her face, followed by a quick shower with Dr. Bronner’s soap and a good sponge.
“It comes right off,” she said. “There’s always a little bit of green around my ears and in my hairline, places I can’t really get to. I’ve just accepted that I’m always going to be a little green.”
It’s a lot of work for eight shows a week; sometimes on a weekend day Torres takes four showers. But the role of Elphaba — though physically, emotionally and vocally draining — is a joy, Torres said; “It’s everything an actor wants to do in a show.” And she enjoys seeing the Elphabas in the audience, some of whom arrive with their own green makeup done.
“It’s such a compliment,” said McGilberry. “Some people try really hard to do it well.”
For now, Torres is enjoying the transformation process, and appreciates the “nice, relaxing time” spent with McGilberry, talking about their days. It’ll be strange, Torres said, to one day go back to playing a nongreen role — “to do another show and do my own makeup and look like a normal person.”
“Wicked,” through July 7; The Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St. Seattle; tickets start at $49; 800-982-2787, stgpresents.org