Backstage

  • A portrait of Josh Marquette, the lead hair designer for Tony Award-winning Broadway show 'Kinky Boots'
  • Images courtesy of 'Kinky Boots'
  • Images courtesy of 'Kinky Boots'
  • Images courtesy of 'Kinky Boots'
  • Images courtesy of 'Kinky Boots'
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Josh Marquette

Tony Award-winning Broadway show Kinky Boots, the story of the friendship and partnership between a man struggling to keep his family’s shoe business afloat and a drag queen looking for comfortable heels, is delighting sold-out audiences with its rousing song-and-dance numbers, incredible fashion and, of course, fabulous hair. “I was really proud of the hair,” said the show’s lead hair designer, Josh Marquette. “Everyone looks so beautiful; most people in the audience actually think they’re real women!” We chatted with Josh about prepping the show’s 50 different wigs, the famous divas who inspired the looks and what he’s working on next (HINT: He’s going from drag to Disney).

How did you get your start in Broadway?


I wanted to work on Broadway my whole life. I went to Southern Oregon University for theater, and I was exposed to every different aspect of putting on a show. I learned about wigs, makeup and facial hair in one of my classes and realized I had a talent for it, so I went to beauty school in New York City after college to learn to cut and color. Halfway through, I got a job on the crew for Flower Drum Song. After that, I did every free show and benefit that I could to get experience and make connections.

At this point, you’ve designed the hair for many shows. What’s your creative process for coming up with the various styles?


I usually start by meeting with the costume designer and getting his or her take on the show as a whole and each scene within it. Sometimes they have specific ideas for the hair; sometimes they’re open to anything. I also talk to the director about any ideas or input. Depending on when and where the show takes place, I research the era and culture. Then I think about what works for each character, the actor’s face, whether the hair needs to portray humor or disappear into the background, and many other contributing factors. I also try to get to know the music for the show; it gives you a better idea of what’s going on and what the dancing will be like.

Where did you look for inspiration for the "Kinky Boots" looks?


I collaborated a lot with costume designer Gregg Barnes (we’ve worked together many times; early in my career, he was my knight in shining armor!) and director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell to come up with the styles. Kinky Boots was interesting because the inspiration could really draw on any era for drag queens, so I had the world at my feet when exploring references. I looked at old Hollywood pictures and contemporary red carpet hair. For Billy Porter, who plays the lead character of Lola, I had to look at African American hair. I worked really closely with Billy on ideas, and we pulled a lot of inspiration from Whitney Houston, Beyonce, old school Diana Ross and RuPaul, plus elements of Queen Latifah and Tyra Banks.

In coming up with the looks for the rest of the cast, I looked at RuPaul’s Drag Race to some degree, but mostly got inspired by beautiful women. Of course, the proportion has to be bigger for a drag queen, but I didn’t want to cross the line into looking like a clown.

How many wigs are used for the show? How long do they take to be prepped for each performance?


There are a lot of wigs in our hair room—about 50 now! Lola has five wigs alone. There are eight shows a week, so there isn’t time to completely re-style every wig for each performance. The team does light touch-ups for every show and full touch-ups for a few wigs every day. They are working very hard back there!

My favorite wig is a braided Mohawk with curly red pieces; it’s so perfect. I also love Lola’s first wig because it moves so well and the gorgeous finale wig.

How many people are on the hair team? Are you backstage for every show?


I worked with the director, costume designer and choreographer early on to come up with looks, have the wigs made, do initial fittings and design the looks. I stuck around through tech rehearsals and hired a crew of three to take it from there. I pop in every now and then, but I know the show is in very capable hands.

What are your secrets to keeping the styles in place throughout all the dancing?


When designing the looks, you have to consider how the hair is going to look—and hold up—during dance numbers. I try to come up with styles that don’t need a lot of hairspray because it dirties the wig, so there are lots of hidden bobby pins. I also use good heat-protecting products instead of hairspray, and I love that mousses are making a comeback.

What are some other favorite shows you’ve worked on?


Drowsy Chaperone was my all-time favorite, even though it didn’t last as long as it should have! It has a special place in my heart because it was my first Broadway design job. We created 1920s hair; lots of pin curls! It was a challenge coming up with looks that were classic but didn’t make the actress feel like an old lady. My favorite part was outrageous Latin lover Adolpho’s wig, which was intended to look crazy and out-there. In a dream sequence, the white stripe on his wig turned into a gold stripe; it was a subtle touch, but it made me so excited when people noticed it.

Elf was also a blast; it was set in contemporary times and the elves themselves could be fun and wacky.

In addition to Broadway, I worked as a department head stylist on 30 Rock for three years, on Saturday Night Live for several years as a fill-in stylist and on seasons of Gossip Girl.

What’s next for you?


I’m working on the Disney production of Aladdin, which is currently doing an out-of-town tryout in Toronto and is scheduled to hit Broadway in March. We’re creating beautiful contemporary hairstyles, including Jasmine’s soft waves and ponytail.
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