The Wizards Behind 'The Wiz Live!' | NBC New York

The Wizards Behind 'The Wiz Live!'

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Paul Gilmore/NBC
    "The Wiz Live!" cast (l-r) Common as The Bouncer, Mary J. Blige as Evillene, Queen Latifah as The Wiz, Amber Riley as Addapearle, Uzo Aduba as Glinda, Stephanie Mills as Auntie Em, Toto, Ne-Yo as Tin-Man, Shanice Williams as Dorothy, Elijah Kelley as Scarecrow and David Alan Grier as The Cowardly Lion.

    Peek behind the curtain at "The Wiz Live!" and you'll find there is indeed a wizard — or three.

    They are costumer Paul Tazewell and makeup artists Dave and Lou Elsey, who are turning actors into munchkins and flying monkeys, and, of course, a lion, a scarecrow and a tin man.

    The three-hour NBC event Thursday (8 p.m./7c) has forced the trio to come up with looks that are intriguing but engineered to withstand sweat, dancing and quick changes. And no stopping.

    "With most television shows, you have the opportunity to cut and to go back and re-film and perfect as you go along," said Tazewell, a Tony Award nominee. "With this, there's no opportunity to do that. It does need to play as if we're on a Broadway stage. We hit the 'Go' button and there's no turning back."

    On the makeup end, Dave Elsey, who won an Oscar in 2011 for co-creating the look for "The Wolfman," has teamed up with his wife, Lou, to update the Oz creatures for 2015, but without having the slower pace of a movie shoot.

    "The biggest challenge is to get everything on in such a small amount of time and making sure that everything is locked down and perfect," said Lou Elsey, who worked with her husband on the effects for the final "Star Wars" prequel.

    The TV musical stars 19-year-old newcomer Shanice Williams as Dorothy, Queen Latifah as the Wiz, Mary J. Blige as the Wicked Witch of the West, Ne-Yo as the Tin Man, Elijah Kelley as the Scarecrow, David Alan Grier as the Cowardly Lion, as well as Common, Uzo Aduba, Amber Riley and Stephanie Mills, the original Broadway Dorothy.

    Tazewell and the Elseys have created looks that are both concrete and evocative, using a mix of foam latex and acrylic paint. Hundreds of costumes — relax, there are spares on hand — have been made, not to mention dozens of noses, wings, wigs and tails.

    Quick changes — some can take as long as a commercial break and others only a minute — are required to switch actors into items like padded bodysuits and masks. Teams will be standing by for touch-ups.

    "If there's a second where we can get to the actor when the camera's not on them, we'll be in there," said Dave Elsey. "Half the job is maintaining. You stick the makeup on, and that's one thing. But making it last for a performance is a whole other kettle of fish."

    In this production, the Tin Man has rust stains, as if left out in the rain, and soft foam latex covers his whole head. The lion takes the longest amount of work since Grier's body shape had to be altered and real animal hair added.

    Kelley, as the twitchy Scarecrow, posed a special problem for the makeup artists: "He's like an athlete so keeping it on him has become a real problem," Dave Elsey said. "Normal glues just weren't going to work on him."

    The creators insisted that the actors not get lost in the getups and makeup. They wanted the performer's personality to still emerge. Or as Lou Elsey said: "Let the humanity shine through."

    The Elseys, who made their Broadway debut last year alongside Tazewell designing the revival of "Side Show," had to adapt to new timetables. On a movie set, what they do takes up to three hours. On Thursday, they'll have 20 minutes.

    Each major character will get two dedicated assistants assigned to help make the human-to-creature transformation offscreen. Why two? "What we've found is that if you have any more than that, it slows it down rather than speeds it up," said Dave Elsey.

    Tazewell, for his part, is an experienced pro at live productions — he's designed the costumes for such Broadway shows as "Hamilton," ''Doctor Zhivago" and "Memphis" — but had to adjust to working with LED lights and creatures whose eyes light up digitally. There was also figuring out what level of lighting works best on TV.

    "You need much less power in order to get a really big impact," he said. "All of that is adding to an amazing experience and broadening what I'm able to do."

    On the night of the show, the design teams will be drilled in how to get the maximum pop from a minimum of energy, a kind of makeup-and-costume ballet.

    "While the actors are practicing their dance steps, we have to practice our dance steps. So that when one person is sticking makeup on, the other person is rushing around with some glue in a pot there's not a huge collision," said Dave Elsey.

    It's a stressful job that, hopefully, no one will notice. After an anxious telecast of worrying about possible lost noses and excessive sweat, the Elseys plan to relax a bit before easing on down the road.

    "When this is finished — and I think I can speak for Lou here — I'm going to lay in a darkened room with a damp towel over my head for about two weeks," said Dave Elsey.

    "The Wiz Live!" airs Thursday, Dec. 3 at 8 p.m.ET/7C on NBC.