weather icon Clear

Artist at Madame Tussauds keeps his head while others lose theirs — for repair

Nicki Minaj has lost her head. Literally. (To say nothing of the big hole in the middle of her back.)

At the edge of the table where Minaj’s headless body poses provocatively on all fours, there’s a head that looks like it might be hers, but the skin is several shades lighter than the singer’s lattelike complexion.

But at least Minaj has a body — which is more than you can say for poor Bruno Mars, whose head rests nearby. And speaking of heads, who’s the dude missing almost all of his hair? Lenny Kravitz, that’s who.

Tony Bennett’s visage, meanwhile, perches on an adjacent counter. Half of his face looks quite lifelike, thanks to an extremely convincing paint job; the other half seems pale and pasty-faced, a waxy facsimile. Which is, of course, exactly what he (it?) is.

There are other body parts strewn about this Dr. Frankenstein-style laboratory hovering above the Strip, from Elvis Presley’s hand to Shaquille O’Neal’s arm — the latter complete with armpit hair, painstakingly applied strand by strand.

Welcome to the inner sanctum of Madame Tussauds Las Vegas: the studio.

There, four staff artists repair and refurbish more than 100 wax figures showcased in the attraction at The Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes.

On the top floor, an elevator ride up from the themed celebrity displays, lead studio artist Adam Morey surveys the work tables where the magic happens.

Or, more precisely, re-happens.

Every wax figure on display at the Las Vegas branch of Madame Tussauds — one of seven in the U.S. and 23 around the world — is created at, and shipped from the West London area of Acton. (It takes 20 artists three to four months to create one wax figure, at a cost of $250,000 to $350,000, according to Tussauds officials.)

Once those styled and painted figures arrive in Las Vegas, however, it’s up to Morey and his colleagues to keep them looking their best.

An annual rehab, such as the one for Minaj’s figure — which includes repainting her face and replacing hair, eyebrows and eyelashes — takes about a week, Morey notes.

Notebooks crammed with details from the London creators, right down to the fingernail color, guide the Las Vegas studio artists’ work, he says.

In addition to annual refurbishment, each figure gets a daily touch-up, Morey says.

He arrives at 7 a.m. — three hours before Madame Tussauds opens to the public — to “take care of my friends,” he says. “I touch up paint, I touch up hair, I fix costumes.”

His early-morning patrol “took some getting used to,” the artist admits. But “I don’t mind the upkeep every day.”

Armed with oil paints daubed on a paper palette, Morey uses a paintbrush to retouch the wax figures’ flesh tones. (Acrylic paint is used on the resident Marvel Comics characters, including the Incredible Hulk — who, at 15 feet, is the largest figure at Madame Tussauds.)

A wooden tool enables Morey to smooth out nicks in the wax, he adds. (For its figures, Tussauds uses a mixture of beeswax and Japan wax, a vegetable wax obtained from the berry kernels of an Asian sumac tree.)

The artist also is in charge of removing lipstick smears from such kiss magnets as Justin Bieber and Channing Tatum. (“I’m always taking lipstick off his face,” Morey says as he regards Tatum’s movie-star mug.)

Visitors also are hard on the figures’ ears and fingers, he adds.

That explains the cubbyholes, upstairs in the studio, containing replacement hands organized in alphabetical order, whether Foxx, Jamie, or Jackson, Michael. (Conveniently, former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman’s spare hand comes with an already-attached martini glass.)

An in-house hairstylist, meanwhile, keeps the figures’ human-hair tresses in shape, because “the hair’s really important to the likenesses,” Morey explains.

Certain figures are periodically restyled to reflect changes in their image. Beyonce, for example, is getting a “Lemonade” makeover to reflect her latest album look.

She’s “one of the heavier ones,” Morey notes, because at one time she (it?) “had a mechanical component.” Most of the figures, he adds, weigh between 30 and 40 pounds.

Although Madame Tussauds features plenty of contemporary pop-culture fixtures, the museum’s history proved a more compelling draw for Morey, 43.

A formally trained artist with a master’s degree from UNLV — who also taught there — Morey previously curated exhibits for the art galleries at the Clark County Government Center and the county-run Winchester Cultural Center.

But he had been “trying to come in here for awhile,” Morey says of Tussauds. “I love the history,” which began in 1777 with French wax sculptor Marie Tussaud, who created the images of writer Voltaire, diplomat Benjamin Franklin, even death masks of aristocrats who were executed during the French Revolution.

“I always just wanted to be a part of that,” Morey says.

His art training definitely comes in handy as he faces such day-to-day challenges as retooling a hand — one that once belonged to George W. Bush’s figure — for Hugh Hefner.

In 2017, Madame Tussauds Las Vegas plans a behind-the-scenes area in the museum, so visitors can glimpse the process studio artists follow to keep the stars looking like themselves.

“To me, this job is so challenging as an artist,” Morey says. “It’s such a weird place to work — but in an interesting, good way.”

Read more stories from Carol Cling at reviewjournal.com. Contact her at ccling@reviewjournal.com and follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Smith & Wollensky opens at The Venetian
After 18 years, the Smith & Wollensky location on Las Vegas’ south Strip closed in 2017, to be re-born two years later with a rib-cutting — instead of a ribbon-cutting — in The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
Colin Cantwell, Creator Of Iconic Star Wars Ships Visits Vegas
Colin Cantwell, who created and designed such "Star Wars" ships as the X-Wing fighter, and Death Star, met fans at Rogue Toys in Las Vegas today. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Beauty & Essex in Las Vegas makes an EDC Wonder Wheel
In honor of the Electric Daisy Carnival, Beauty & Essex at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas makes its Wonder Wheel party-worthy. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Giada talks Vegas Uncork’d
Giada De Laurentiis talks during Aperitivo Hour, a Vegas Uncork'd event, at her Caesars Palace restaurant, Pronto, May 10, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Scenes from Vegas Uncork’d 2019 on the Las Vegas Strip
The 13th edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit brought four days of food, wine, celebrity chefs and parties to town, May 9-12. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Three ingredients Gordon Ramsay can’t live without
Bon Appetit's Andy Baraghani interviews the "Hell's Kitchen" chef during a Vegas Uncork'd event at Caesars Palace, May 11, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas Uncork’d launches wiith bubbles and a blade
Dozens of chefs representing some of the Strip’s top restaurants gathered Thursday at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to launch the 2019 edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bunky the Clown at the clown convention
Bob "Bunky the Clown" Gretton talks about his life as a clown and the Clown Convention which was in Las Vegas at Texas Station this week. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Frying soft-shell crab at Lola’s in Las Vegas
At Lola’s: A Louisiana Kitchen in Las Vegas, soft-shell crab is breaded and fried and served either as an appetizer, po’boy or platter. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
The Stove in Henderson makes Pecan Pie Pancakes
At The Stove in Henderson, chef/partner Antonio Nunez stacks buttermilk pancakes with pecans and dulce de leche and tops them pie crust crumbs. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vinnie Paul remembered at Count's Vamp'd
The late rocker's favorite table at one of his favorite clubs in Las Vegas. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
4DX movie experience at Red Rock
4DX movie experience during a demo reel at Red Rock. (Christopher Lawrence/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
What To Do On May The 4th
There are plenty of events going on May the 4th this year around Las Vegas. Celebrate Star Wars and Comic Book Day all at once. The Rogue Toys, the 501st, Rebel Legion and Millennium Fandom Bar are all hosting fun events to help celebrate your geek-dom. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Water Sports Introduces New Attraction At Lake Las Vegas
Las Vegas Water Sports will debut its new aqua park attraction at Lake Las Vegas Days this weekend. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Making the Space Invader at Greene St. Kitchen in Las Vegas
Lysa Huerta, pastry cook at Greene St. Kitchen at the Palms in Las Vegas, starts with angel food cake, Fruity Pebbles ice cream and strawberry sorbet to create a space creature engulfed in flashing lights and swirling mists. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Pools
The M, Park MGM and NoMad are just a few great pools in Las Vegas. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jose Andres explains Iberico pork
(Al Mancini/Las Vega Review-Journal)
Inside Life is Beautiful
Craig Asher Nyman explains how Life is Beautiful festival is booked and talks about this year's line-up. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America Pops Up In Vegas
Tattoo'd America, a new pop-up attraction on the Linq Promenade, had their grand opening Friday. The attraction is dedicate to the culture of tattoos. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Jose Andres gets key to the Strip
Chef Jose Andres was presented with a Key to the Las Vegas Strip and a proclamation declaring April 26 Jose Andres Day in Clark County by County Commissioner Tick Segerblom on Friday. The ceremony took place at his restaurant Bazaar Meat in the SLS Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sadelle’s in Las Vegas makes a grilled cheese with an inverted bagel
Michael Vargas, executive sous chef at Sadelle’s at Bellagio in Las Vegas, inverts an everything bagel and grills it with Swiss, cheddar and Muenster cheeses to make the Inverted Bagel Grilled Cheese. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures
Kassandra Lopez at Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Prime rib is carved tableside at Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Las Vegas
Dave Simmons, executive chef of Lawry’s The Prime in Las Vegas, which plans special cuts for National Prime Rib Day, demonstrates the restaurant’s service from rolling tableside carving carts. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making gluten-free pizza at Good Pie in Las Vegas
Good Pie owner/pizzaiola Vincent Rotolo makes his gluten-free pizza.
Rockabilly fans enjoy Las Vegas weather poolside
Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender runs Thursday, April 18th through Sunday, April 21st with a huge car show on Saturday featuring The Reverend Horton Heat, The Delta Bombers and The Coasters. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brownie sundae at VegeNation in Las Vegas is completely vegan
Donald Lemperle, chef/owner of VegeNation in Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, NV, makes his sundae with ice cream made with coconut and almond milks, a brownie made with coconut flour and oil and organic sugar and cacao, and fresh fruit. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Taste of the Town: Henderson Booze District
Those who like to support local businesses and sample local products will find the best concentration in an unlikely spot: a Henderson industrial park.
Founder of Las Vegas theater talks about a favorite play
Ann Marie Pereth, founder of A Public Fit Theatre Company, speaks to the Review-Journal about which play she would see every day if only given one option. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)