Wig and makeup designer Mike Potter gives American Salon a backstage look at Broadway’s Tony Award-winning musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Andrew Rannells plays Hedwig, and wears eight different wigs designed by Mike Potter
Andrew Rannells stars in John Cameron Mitchell’s and Stephen Trasks’ musical comedy Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Broadway’s Belasco Theatre as “internationally ignored song stylist” Hedwig. Mike Potter—who has been the wig and makeup designer for Hedwig and the Angry Inch from the character’s debut at SqueezeBox nightclub to the movie production to Broadway—met Mitchell in the mid-’90s. He once told him how as a kid, he styled his grandmother’s wigs for church. “I would tear them apart and resew them,” Potter says. Mitchell asked him if he would create the wigs and makeup for his character, Hedwig, for his performance at SqueezeBox. “His wig fell apart and his makeup melted, and he loved it,” Potter recalls. “So I started making him more wigs using staples, hot glue and dryer tubes.”
Now that the show is on Broadway, the wigs are of a different caliber. Potter purchased base wigs, added hair, cut them and sewed tracks. Each one incorporates magnets for easy layering and quick onstage changes; during a two-minute number Hedwig wears four different wigs. When creating the hair, Potter looked to different pop culture icons, from Farrah Fawcett to Melanie Griffith in Working Girl. To ensure the wigs survive each 90-minute show, Potter and wig supervisor Steven (Perfidia) Kirkham use loads of hairspray. “The wigs are being thrown on the floor and stomped on,” Potter says. “It’s part of the character.”
Though he sticks backstage, Potter’s influence permeates other departments. He collaborated with costume designer Arianna Phillips for the ombre hair dress, which blended with the wig he hand-dyed pink and black. Potter also gave the band, the Angry Inch, signature styles. He shaved bassist Matt Duncan’s long, curly brown hair, bleached it, mixed bright green and turquoise dye, and cut the color with conditioner for a “toothpaste-colored crew cut,” Potter says.
For Hedwig’s makeup, Potter blocked Rannells’ brows with a glue stick. Then he color-corrected his beard, and used concealer and powder on his beard and brows. He drew thin brows with black liner; applied eyeshadow and blush with a straight edge; and piled on the glitter. “The makeup falls off her face,” says Potter. “We could have made the makeup stay on, but she falls apart onstage.”
Potter gave the band signature cuts and colors; Rannells wearing an ombre wig and hair dress; the look for Hedwig’s husband, Yitzhak (Lena Hall), was a collaboration between Potter, who looked to Karlheinz Weinberger’s Rebel Youth, and costume designer Arianne Phillips, who referenced ’50s greasers.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch’s journey has been ever-evolving, traveling from nightclubs to Broadway to the Tony Awards, but the wigs essentially remain unchanged. “On Broadway, there’s a lot more money and human hair,” Potter says. “But it’s funny when you look at Hedwig’s wigs back in the ’90s, the element is still there—it’s still Hedwig.” ✂ —Kristen Heinzinger