At every performance of musical “The Phantom of the Opera,” on Broadway and around the country, the tortured title character rips off his mask to reveal his disfigured face. That deformed mug is the handiwork of production makeup supervisor Thelma Pollard, who’s been with the Gotham incarnation since it began in 1988. It’s her job to teach every new “Phantom” cast member how to apply character makeup correctly and then ensure they keep doing it right. But it’s the Phantom himself that’s her baby: Before each perf, she carefully paints the prosthetics pieces (made of one-use latex) and applies the actor’s makeup herself, a process that takes about an hour.
Besides fidgety thesps — “some actors are better at sitting still than others,” she says diplomatically — hurdles include dropped wigs and a clock-ticking makeup application for an understudy who was rushed into a perf when the lead was sidelined by laryngitis midshow. And then there was the time she had to figure out the Phantom’s skin color palette for Robert Guillaume, one of the few black actors to take on the title role.
Pollard was born in what she describes as a small village in Barbados — “I didn’t know about Broadway!” — and eventually followed her parents to New York, going on to earn two licenses in cosmetology, specializing in hair and makeup. A chance meeting with makeup designer Stanley James in the salon where she was an apprentice led to gigs on the original Broadway production of “The Wiz” and a string of legit credits that include “Dreamgirls,” “Cats,” “Song and Dance,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.”
Along with steady work on screen projects, she was part of the first all-black female team to compete in the World Hair Olympics in Paris in 1980, where her group won a silver medal. She’s also spoken at the Intl. Makeup Artist Trade Show and mentors students at Gotham vocational schools.
NAME: Thelma Pollard
FUNCTION: Applies the elaborate makeup to the actor playing the Phantom of the Opera.
DOMAIN: Broadway’s Majestic Theater, where “Phantom” has been running since 1988.
# OF PHANTOMS WORKED ON: 30 on Broadway, including understudies.
PROSTHETIC PIECES APPLIED BEFORE EVERY PERF: 3
# OF BROADWAY PERFORMANCES OF PHANTOM: 10,543 as of June 2
SCREEN WORK: “I Am Legend,” “Revolutionary Road,” “Malcolm X,” “Saturday Night Live,” “It’s Showtime at the Apollo,” “The Guiding Light”
Local Hero is a tribute to the people who are invisible but invaluable: They’re not in the spotlight, but the biz couldn’t function without them.