One make-up design works three different ways

Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman
Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman | All photos by Joan Marcus, courtesy of Cristina Waltz

When Paul Reubens, aka Pee-wee Herman, made a comeback last year in The Pee-wee Herman Show Live On Stage, make-up artist Ve Neill revisited the designs she had done for the TV show Pee-wee’s Playhouse and made adjustments for theater. (See Make-Up Artist magazine Issue 84.)

This winter, the show got two more makeovers as it moved from Los Angeles to Broadway and then to HBO, which is about to air the film it made of the Broadway show. Cristina Waltz, who oversaw application duties in Los Angeles, moved East with the show as make-up and wig supervisor and began looking for backup once she arrived.

“I called OCC and they recommended Katie Pellegrino,” said Waltz. “Her understanding of bold color and flawless skin were perfect for what I needed for Jambi and Miss Yvonne. We worked really well together and created great looks.” The pair was joined by Steven Kirkham and David Kalihiki; Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics and Make Up For Ever were the show’s make-up sponsors.

With Neill’s blessing, Waltz added design elements and adjusted the make-up to compensate for lighting and scale changes. “The lighting on Broadway was very bright and the stage was bigger,” Waltz said. “Everyone looked like ghosts compared to cartoon-y lighting in L.A. We exaggerated the characters’ features. Everyone had much darker tones so they would look more youthful and alive.

Make-Up Artist magazine: The Pee-wee Herman Show Live On Stage; Pee-wee and Jambi the genie
Pee-wee with Jambi (John Paragon)

“We had to do a lot of playing with the colors. We did natural but heavy applications of make-up. We got feedback from the director and Paul and kept playing ’til we got it right.”

Added Pellegrino: “Cristina and I were constantly racing back and forth from backstage to the back of the theater, double and triple checking that the make-up was reading from the back of the orchestra or the balcony. It sometimes felt like a game that we were playing, to see how long you could linger in the audience before you absolutely had to be backstage for your character’s make-up change or touchup.”

One of the biggest challenges was Jambi the genie. “They tried to light him a lot more to make a head floating in a box,” said Waltz. The team used a Wolfe Face Art & FX teal green to reflect highlights, removed some of the color and glitter  around the eyes and added white to the lids, switching the liner style from “less Egyptian to more ’60s Elvira, to give him sharper features,” Waltz said.

Make-Up Artist magazine: The Pee-wee Herman Show Live On Stage; Pee-wee and Miss Yvonne
Pee-wee and Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart)

Then there was Miss Yvonne, an older actress playing a much younger character.

“We did a lot of moisturizing-skin prep plus seven different shades of foundation to make her look youthful,” Waltz said. “Katie was able to work with her skin–she has more mature skin, but she looked beautiful. Her shadows were more pink and orange and a more dramatic eyeliner going on, more dramatic lips.”

Immediately after the show wrapped (it ran from Oct. 26-Jan. 2), HBO came in to film it for cable, which meant reigning in the design and application for a softer look. “When we did it for HBO, we had to knock it back down, since lighting was more natural and we had close-ups,” Waltz said.

One thing that didn’t change drastically over time was Reubens’ iconic make-up. The key, said Waltz, was “lots of blending, contouring of colors, lots of little subtleties and color around his forehead. I try not to overpowder him—he has naturally dewy skin.”

That said, Reuben’s make-up has changed dramatically since the early days when he did it himself with heavy pancake. “When Ve Neill came in and redesigned it for the TV series and the second movie, it took a leap into the Space Age,” Reubens said. “She humanized it a little bit. I was an early guinea pig at using an airbrush for make-up.”

Though Pee-wee might not think make-up is important (“What make-up?” Reubens joked when asked for Pee-wee’s assessment), Reubens himself feels that the changing design and application has helped him develop his character over time and in different venues.

“I wasn’t a boy then, and I’m certainly not now,” he said. “To say I’m make-up dependent is kind of an understatement.”

HBO airs The Pee-wee Herman Show on Broadway on March 19.