It’s difficult to pull off a live show in the theater. It’s even more difficult to pull off the show in front of millions of viewers. Yet “Jesus Christ Superstar Live” was able to accomplish the feat better than any of the previous live musicals. The show had an edge, great performances, and visually stood apart from other “Superstar” performances. Part of that credit goes to makeup artist Joe Dulude II, who created character makeup for more than 40 cast members. Joe sat down with me to discuss his career on Broadway (including “Wicked” and “SpongeBob Squarepants: The Musical), working on “Jesus Christ Superstar” and how he designed those cool tattoos.
Alan French/Awards Circuit: What were some of the first steps you took to become a makeup artist?
JD: I’ve been doing makeup for about 20 years, and designing for Broadway about 15. I started in the retail business and when I moved to New York, I had always been inspired by the monster movies as a kid. Like Frankenstein and Dracula, the old monster movies.
I would do makeup on myself, and when my nieces were old enough I started trying some makeup techniques on them. When I moved to New York, I worked at a punk rock/rock and roll clothing store on St. Marks. Photographers would come in and they would ask if I was a makeup artist. I started doing shoots for free so I could get pictures for my book. That’s sort of how it got started.
AF: What got you interested in working on Broadway?
JD: I used to act when I was younger. In college, I started switching over and doing more of the technical elements. I stage managed, I did makeup, I did lighting sets. Everything. A friend of mine, Kate Best, who is Vanessa Williams personal makeup artist, was working on “Into the Woods” with Vanessa. She needed someone to come in and do two shows, so she called me. The two shows turned into eight shows. She called me the following week and asked if I could do another week, and then she called the week after and said, “would you come and take over for me?” It was a great way to get into this world that I always loved.
AF: I know one of your big credits is designing makeup for “Wicked.” With your background in the Monster movies, how much did that inspire your work on that show?
JD: As far as the inspiration for “Wicked,” I did take from what we traditionally see as witches. I did take from the original “Wizard of Oz,” but we wanted to make sure that we didn’t want her skin to look fake so that it looked like a Gumby Green. We wanted it to look real, not like fake skin. The important thing for us was that she’s not actually ugly, she’s actually beautiful, but they hate her more for her skin color. So our take is more focused on skin color, and not going to the extreme with a wart on the face or a long clunky nose.
AF: What is your favorite Broadway show you’ve worked on?
JD: Well I have two. So “Follies” was one that I always loved. We started it up at the Kennedy Center, and the Kennedy Center treats you so well. As the makeup designer, you’re not always there from the beginning. You come in for a week, maybe two weeks if its a much more complicated show. You don’t really get a whole lot of interaction so it takes a while to get to know the cast and the rest of the crew. With “Follies” it was instant. Everyone welcomed me in, and they were a joy to work with. I got to work with incredible women like Bernadette Peters and Jen Maxwell. The whole process was just delightful.
The second one is “SpongeBob” which I just did. That show just makes me happy. When I watch it, I smile. I love being in the audience and looking around me and seeing not only the adults enjoying it, but to watch the faces of the kids that are in the audience. I work with kids at a camp, so it is really important for me to be a good influence on them and seeing that joy on their faces really warms my heart.
AF: Before working on “Jesus Christ Superstar,” what was your relationship to the show?
JD: I’ve always loved it since I first saw the movie from the 1970s. I had always loved the music and I’ve always been a fan of rock operas. It doesn’t fit into a general mold of what a musical is. I also grew up Catholic so I knew the history and the story. To finally be able to work on it, and design it in such a cool way was pretty fun. It was not a traditional interpretation of it, but what I like to call “clean Post-Apocalyptic.”
AF: How did you first get involved with this version of the show?
JD: I’ve worked with Paul Tazewell, who is the costume designer. I didn’t know that he was doing this project, but I knew he had done the Donna Summer musical. I called him and asked if I could be the makeup designer for that show. He said, ‘I’d love for you to do that, but there’s another project that I really want to do. It’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ for NBC’ and I immediately said yes. I’ll do it! I also got to work with my good friend Charles LaPointe, who is also nominated for the wigs and hair. We’ve worked together since “Wicked” so we’ve become really great friends and worked on a lot of shows together. The three of us work so well together.
AF: How do you approach that collaboration?
JD: Usually, it starts with talking to the costume designer of the show and looking at the sketches that they have of the costumes. Seeing what the style is, what the theme is, talking to them, and asking them questions about specific characters. If there are certain words or genres in a play or musical that we’re going for, it’s about researching and finding reference pictures. Then I do the face charts and they look at them and they let me know if they like this element or if they want something changed. Then I start doing the actual makeup tests.
One of the great things about having worked with Chuck is that he can do a wig or style hair on someone, and he can tell me if someone has an ashy blonde hair. Could you brighten her up a little bit so she doesn’t look so pale? I can look at the actor and let Chuck know if the makeup doesn’t match with the shape of the hair. Communication and collaboration are the most important things because we’re all working on one product. If we don’t collaborate and we don’t talk to each other, then I think the whole project can fall apart. With “Superstar” everyone was there to put out the best product and I think it showed in the production.
AF: You can absolutely tell. I hadn’t watched it since I was like 15 and my Dad would watch it on AMC. It was amazing how you brought those characters and the sets to life. How did you begin the research for these characters? Did you want to reference the original film, or take your own path?
JD: We took our own path and after he sent over the costume sketches I noticed a lot of it is actually what I would wear in real life. A lot of my friends watching the show asked if they just raided my closet. I knew we wanted to have this modern edge. There was maybe a slight reference, but it was more about being dewy and fresh and sunkissed and still being set in Jerusalem. It had to be a clean post-apocalyptic version that feels like it’s happening somewhere in the future. I think the story is sort of timeless in that way.
AF: One of the cool things I noticed on the characters were the tattoos. How did you design those?
JD: Well those were some of the hardest parts of the design. Paul showed me this one reference photo of this model and he had a line that went all way down his arm. I had originally started with ancient Sumerian symbols and then ancient Jewish text, and as soon as I saw that photo, sacred geometry was in my mind. Everything was a line, or a rectangle or a square or circle and triangles.
Since I grew up Catholic, I started digging into references to the Bible. Like the Holy Trinity so a lot of things were done in threes. Some of the tattoos were modern interpretations of a stain-glassed window in a church. One was an abstract version of a cathedral but it was just done with line work. The one I did for Brandon (Victor Dixon) was actually a modern interpretation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus so it was three concentric circles, and between the middle two, it alternated between solid black and clear to represent the 4 ventricles of the heart. I took inspiration from old Jewish text and created my own text, and those became the flames that were coming up from the heart.
AF: That’s really cool. How did the application of makeup on Broadway help prepare you for this show?
JD: The main aspect from Broadway that you learn is speed. Having to go through 45 or 46 cast members, and not only having to do their makeup but also doing the tattoos on everybody, was the primary element. It was about speed, and getting everybody done. We only had 2 quick changes. We get that a lot in the theater because actors play multiple roles. So they’re going to run off and they have 30 seconds to change wig and outfit, and what they have time with makeup. I knew the timing, so I knew how to make things work.
AF: If you could point to one moment in “Jesus Christ Superstar” that you were most proud of having accomplished, what would that be for you?
JD: I think it was doing the show itself. I remember there was a point and we were running through it, and I was out in the house and watching in front of a monitor. It really hit me that this was my show. That I had designed the makeup for this, and it was going to be shown throughout the country live and it was that moment when I started to tear up. I’ve worked in the industry for a long time and I’m proud of the things I’ve done, but something like this was beyond what I could have thought of. It was also really important for me and my family. Just knowing that they were in the back of mind and knowing that they were going to be at home and see it, and they know it’s my work, that was probably my proudest moment in the whole production.
AF: So what’s up next for you?
JD: Right now, I work at a camp every year for kids that have LGBT parents called Camp Highlight so that is coming up. After that, we will have the “Anastasia” tour that is starting in Synecdoche, New York. Then I have “Torch Song” which is coming to Broadway. We did off-Broadway last year and this year we’re on Broadway this year starting in October. Then I start work on “Beetlejuice: The Musical” which I am so excited for. Hopefully, it will come to Broadway next Spring.
AF: That sounds awesome. Best of luck and I hope I’ll be talking to you soon!
What did you think of “Jesus Christ Superstar Live?” Did you enjoy Joe Dulude’s work? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!