Mike Potter has been responsible for the hair and makeup of the title character in Hedwig and the Angry Inch throughout all of her various incarnations, from the play's debut at the SqueezeBox Party at Don Hills in 1994 to the 2001 film. So it only makes sense for Potter to be the one to paint up actor Neil Patrick Harris, who plays the lead in the new Broadway adaptation that was recently nominated for eight Tony awards.
While gravity-defying platinum hair and flashy makeup have remained consistent throughout all of Hedwig's incarnations, reimagining the character for Harris was by no means easy. "Even though people think I'm going to my past, this is totally different," says Potter. "There's more at stake, more money involved, and Hedwig is even more beloved now."
Because Harris hardly leaves the stage during the one-hour-and-40-minute-long production, Potter had to overcome two challenges: Harris has to change his wigs on his own, and there's not a single opportunity to retouch his makeup.
The solution? By placing magnets in every wig, Harris can discreetly switch up hair styles in a matter of seconds. For example, in the musical's rousing opening number, "Tear Me Down," Potter says that Harris' "bi-level mullet" is actually made up of three wigs, so he can "rip one off and snap the other one on quickly for the next look."
As for the makeup, Potter created a face that begins as over-the-top, but blurs and "melts" as Harris sings, dances, and sweats, which also hints at the play's themes of "beauty wearing down and breaking down." By the close of the musical, Hedwig's electric teal eyes, burgundy lips, penciled-in brows, and glittery face "are almost completely melted off," says Potter. "It's the way I designed it. When I do Neil and release him to the stage, there is nothing I can do after that. But Hedwig has a scrappiness about her, so it all works. I mean, who else can lick the stage and grind people in the face with the audience cheering and having a great time?"
Of the countless backstage hours Potter and his assistants put into the musical, Harris is more than grateful. "Mike is genius, and I'm so stoked that the man who created the original look of Hedwig agreed to personally transform my mug every single show," says Harris. "I adore his energy, and am indeed a lucky man/woman to have him be such a pivotal part of this chapter."