How Nina West Uses Makeup as a Plot Device in Hairspray
As audiences watch Turnblad, they’ll follow her transformation from an insecure, stay-at-home mom to a confident woman who believes she is beautiful and worthy of love and acceptance. In a way, Edna’s evolution has elements of a drag transformation — intentional or not — that add more layers and dimension to her character.
“It’s the power of someone else believing in you. And I think that goes for a Drag Race fan or Drag Race aficionado myself,” Levitt explains. “You get to see that every season where we see people really embrace their drag. Or in turn, really embrace themselves. With Edna, we see that through her lines — this is Edna really embracing herself.”
But the dialogue is only part of the story. Similar to drag, Levitt’s transformation into Turnblad begins with makeup. Levitt identifies as a man, but it is through the power of makeup that he’s able to portray the character of Edna in such an authentic way. “Makeup is the most powerful storytelling tool in my arsenal before I walk on stage and that’s the same with drag,” Levitt says when describing his craft.
Levitt shaved off his eyebrows to make Edna’s character feel more authentic. If he only blocked his brows as many queens do, it would have taken away from the illusion of the “living, breathing woman” he is working so hard to create for the audience. A brow cover would add another layer to look past in order to see Turnblad for who she really is.
As Turnblad’s character evolves throughout the play, her makeup follows suit to further illustrate this change. “When I’m starting the show, Edna is heavily contoured and shadowed. Her look is not very welcoming — it’s dark and sad because she hasn’t seen the light in so many years,” Levitt says. “However, as the show continues, I’m redoing the shape of my eye to show how her character is letting the light in and is now seeing the world differently.”
Levitt shared some of his favorite products that he uses to bring Edna’s transformation to life on stage. When it comes to Edna’s eyes, Levitt usually sticks to the same color story for the entire show. “Usually, it’s very consistent with either a Morphe palette or MAC brown shadow that progresses throughout the show. We go from a blue, to a purple-red, and then a purple-like burgundy, and finally, for the end of the show, it’s a bright red.”