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‘Wicked’ actress goes green for her Las Vegas role

Mariand Torres remembers the day a casting agent in New York told her she was too short and too curvy to ever play Elphaba.

“She laughed in my face. She had never heard me sing or seen me do anything. And … ” Torres pauses to gesture broadly around her dressing room at The Smith Center. “Here I am.”

As it turns out, the only part of Torres’ appearance that required alteration was the color of her skin. The character Elphaba is green. Her face is green. Her hands are green, every nook and cranny inside her ears, around her hairline and under her cuticles — are green.

About an hour before the curtain rises for the Broadway musical “Wicked,” which runs through Sunday, Torres begins her 30-minute transformation into the Wicked Witch of the West.

The original Elphaba, Idina Menzel, won a Tony Award for the role in 2004. Since then, numerous actresses have played her on Broadway, the West End and on tour. And for the past 13 years, makeup supervisor Joyce McGilberry has painted them green.

McGilberry starts with a wide short-haired paintbrush. She dampens the brush, glides it over a solid cake of a MAC cosmetic product called Chromacake Landscape Green, and then applies it to Torres’ hands in broad strokes.

Using the same brush, she paints Torres’ face, neck, chest and shoulders.

To keep Torres’ face from looking flat, McGilberry uses a smaller brush to highlight and contour, bringing Torres’ features forward with a lighter green and blending dark purple into the sides of her face to emphasize her cheekbones.

She dusts Torres with a setting powder to dry the makeup and keep it from rubbing off throughout the night.

The process is calm and allows Torres a moment of introspection.

“For three hours, I’m on stage and people are watching me,” she says. “It’s nice to sit here and talk with Miss Joyce about other people, other things that are important.”

In Act I, Elphaba’s makeup is more subtle, with a strong brow, lined eyes and a shimmery olive lip.

At intermission, McGilberry will elevate the look, darkening the green, adding more lashes and deepening her cheekbones.

“Elphaba changes, but it also has the effect of making her look older, more mature,” Torres says.

Thirty minutes before curtain, Torres’ makeup is finished and she begins changing into Elphaba’s wig, oversized blazer, flat boots and glasses. She keeps a humidifier on high, an effort to keep her nose and throat healthy in the dry heat of Las Vegas.

“I don’t think people understand how much hair, makeup and costume can do for an actor. I instantly walk differently and move my body differently,” Torres explains. “And then I put on that dress in Act II and I don’t feel like that clumsy kid anymore.”

Before securing the role on this tour, Torres stood by as Elphaba for two years on the first national tour and again for a year and a half on Broadway.

She still feels grateful every night when she steps onto the stage.

“It’s 16 years of amazing women doing this role,” Torres says. “There’s pressure and fear of being compared, but it’s also amazing to step into their shoes and follow in their footsteps.”

She thinks the musical, based on the novel “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” still resonates with audiences because it continues to feel germane. “The part with the lion cub in the cage feels especially painful and interesting now. As a Latin woman, it’s relevant,” she says.

Torres occasionally gets asked if the story has been rewritten to make it more topical.

“That’s the mark of a good show,” she says.

When the show’s over, it’s about a 10-minute process to de-green that starts with Neutrogena makeup remover wipes, a shower with Dr. Bronner’s soap, and a scrub with Neutrogena face wash.

Some green never comes off, embedding itself in her cuticles, behind her ears and in her pores.

“I went in for a facial and the lady starts saying ‘oh, something is wrong, something is wrong,’ ” Torres laughs. “I showed her a picture like ‘this is what I do.’ ”

Despite living one of the most “pop-u-lar” roles in Broadway history, Torres has a pretty good idea of the mark she’s making.

“I joke that my legacy will be leaving green stains on pillowcases in Airbnbs throughout the country,” she says.

Contact Janna Karel at jkarel@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jannainprogress on Twitter.

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