July 17, 2024

Behind the Scenes

Hairspray fills the dressing room beneath Klein Theatre stage. Not one but two types – flex- and firm-hold.“Hair is a character in this play,” Kevin McCluskey, associate professor of theatre and dance, said during dress rehearsals for Steel Magnolias. The UMW production runs through Feb. 26.

Madeline LeCuyer '11, a makeup artist and hairstylist on Broadway, shared tricks of the trade with UMW students in preparation for the opening of Steel Magnolias. Photo by Joshua Dela Cruz
Madeline LeCuyer ’11, a makeup artist and hairstylist on Broadway, shared tricks of the trade with UMW students in preparation for the opening of Steel Magnolias. Photo by Joshua Dela Cruz

Set in a small-town Louisiana beauty parlor, the show claims a six-person cast … and nine wigs, all lovingly created by LeCuyer, who brought them – along with her Broadway experience – from New York. A makeup artist and hairstylist, she’s worked on one hit after another, from Aladdin to Les Misérables. But her return trip to Mary Washington, where she shared tips with students, brought her full-circle.

“The bug had already bit, but this is where it really sank in its fangs,” said LeCuyer, who found her calling during her own undergrad years.

A native of Newport News, Virginia, she followed family members, including great-grandmother Bessie Satchell Amory ’29, to Mary Washington, where LeCuyer majored in theater and classical studies. Two experiences – a master class on wig design for the 18th-ceuntry styles in She Stoops to Conquer and a stage makeup course taught by McCluskey – helped her find passion backstage.

“I saw that spark in her,” McCluskey said. “When I challenged her to push herself, she did.”

At UMW, LeCuyer designed hair and makeup for Our Town, Romeo and Juliet, and Seascape, and interned with the American Ballet Theatre. Now, with a master’s degree in wig and makeup design from North Carolina School of the Arts and a cosmetology license from Empire Beauty School in Queens, she’s pushing others.

“I’ve grown so much working with Madeline,” said biology major Claire Stanchfield, who’s on the Steel Magnolias hair crew with international affairs major Delmi Fonseca-Portillo.

The wigs LeCuyer delivered for this quick-change production sit on an overhead shelf, each worth hundreds of dollars. To make her masterpieces, she scours scripts for context clues, and researches colors and styles. Then she begins the hours-long process of ventilating, similar to latch-hook, to create natural-looking hairlines and custom foundations, one strand at a time.

Madeline LeCuyer Madeleine Dilley and Lily Olson. Mandy Barnes. Catherine O'Meara, Madeleine Dilley, and Mandy Barnes. Madeline LeCuyer '11, a makeup artist and hairstylist on Broadway, shares tricks of the trade with UMW students in preparation for the opening of Steel Magnolias.

In Steel Magnolias, for example, LeCuyer frosted a wig for the role of M’Lynn, to complement senior Gwen Levey’s dark hair. Extra pins keep the hairpiece in place during nightly washings and rollings onstage.

LeCuyer spins the same magic on Broadway, where she’s worked on The Book of Mormon, Cinderella, Disaster! and Phantom of the Opera. On her current show, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, a musical adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, she handles all manner of hair pieces, accessories and braids, even a fake bun that hides a mic.

She finds time for her alma mater, too, returning to campus last summer to assist with UMW’s first-ever TV commercial, teaching a recent master class on prepping for wigs and helping Mary Washington students find their own spotlight.

“As a student,” LeCuyer said, “it’s important to know that if this is what you truly love to do, there’s a way to make a life for yourself doing it.”

For tickets to see Steel Magnolias, call the Klein Theatre Box Office at 540-654-1111 or buy them online.