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BWW Blog: Kelly McCormick of PTC's LES MIS - Wig Magic

When I toured with Les Mis in 2005, our wig master, Barry Ernst, kindly let me grow my hair as long as I wanted. You see, it had been a longtime wish for me to donate as much hair as possible to Locks of Love, a non-profit that provides prosthetic hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children (up to age 21) who suffer from medical hair loss. I was one of those kids: when I was twelve, my hair suddenly began to fall out in large chunks. I had a bald spot on the crown of my head about four inches in diameter, and other quarter-size spots scattered around. I was diagnosed with Alopecia Areata - a condition with no known causes or cures. My doctor went out on a limb and gave me a shot to the scalp of something experimental, and, luckily, it worked. After a few months, my hair began to grow back. Most people that suffer from Alopecia Areata are not so fortunate, and the sense of shame that I felt at my appearance (during puberty, no less) during those months will always stay with me. As a grateful adult with a fully-restored head of hair, it meant a lot to me to be able to help a child in a similar situation.

So after returning to NYC, I found a salon in Astoria that participated in the program and made an appointment. I was brimming with excitement - not only was I about to get a fantastic new haircut (which was SO overdue), someone else's life might change dramatically from this seemingly small act. I couldn't wait to sit in the stylist's chair and get that cape on, already! We discussed what the "after" look should be, and then my hair was divided up into 5 ponytails 18 inches in length. My stylist took out her scissors, smiled and asked, "Ready?" "Yes!" I declared . . . and then the first ponytail was cut off. Instantly, tears sprung to my eyes. "Are you okay?" my stylist asked. "Yes, yes . . . I want to do this!" I sobbed. And off it all came. I walked out of the salon feeling 10 pounds lighter, literally, and pondering why I had such a visceral reaction to a) such a simple thing as a haircut; and b) why I was crying when I had wanted to do this for so long!

You might be wondering why this is the topic of my blog this week . . . and I'll tell you: it's because eight times a week, as Fantine, my hair is cut off on stage. ON STAGE. IN FRONT OF AN AUDIENCE. (Side note for those of you who are not Sherlock Holmes: it's a wig. Yes, I have been asked in earnest if my ACTUAL hair is cut every show). In the original production, Fantine was swept offstage by the Hair Hag and had four seconds to do a wig change; in our PTC production, the brilliant Amanda French has engineered a wig that is able to be "cut" every show. The first time I heard how she had accomplished this design, my jaw was on the floor. Six years later, I'm still in awe of her creativity and astounded at what it gives me, Kelly the actor, emotionally in every show. I asked Amanda if she'd allow me to divulge a little bit of what makes the wig work, without giving away all of the magic trick. Generously, she said, "Sure!" So here it is, folks - magnets. Something so simple that creates theatrical magic and changes my show dramatically, in every sense of that word.

I'll leave you with a few images of Amanda and all of the beautiful work she does to make Les Mis leap off the page. Enjoy!

Amanda, doing maintenance on one of the wigs worn by Dale Hensley (Thenardier)

Amanda's wall of facial hair for Les Mis

Amanda's Room of Hair

Amanda resetting my trick wig in between shows

The final product: Manna Nichols (Eponine); Joe Cassidy (Jean Valjean); Melissa Mitchell (Cosette); Perry Sherman (Marius); Kelly McCormick (Fantine)

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