Big hair days

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 April, 2005, 12:00am

It takes 40 minutes and five canisters of hairspray to prepare the lead actor for the spotlights - and then there's the suit

It is surely no coincidence that holes in the ozone layer were discovered after the 1970s: consider the smog of hairspray that surrounds Adam Jon Fiorentino and you will know why the decade's hairstyles are said to have had disastrous consequences for the environment.

Backstage at Perth's Burswood Theatre, the actor is undergoing the daily, 40-minute hair preparation that will transform him into Saturday Night Fever's Tony Manero. At least, we're told he's here - it's hard to see anything in the smog of hairspray.

'I call it the helmet,' says the 23-year-old, Melbourne-born actor, tilting his head at himself in the mirror. 'Have you seen Spaceballs: The Movie? If you look at my shadow, I have that round, halo thing going on because the hair is given so much air. And yet it's so solid at the same time. Sometimes I go straight home with it still coiffed, although I haven't dared go out clubbing in it or anything like that.'

The amount of flame propellants being sprayed over Fiorentino's head is something to behold. The hole in the ozone layer above Perth is probably widening as we speak. Five different canisters of hair products - each the size of mini fire extinguishers - contribute to the daily ritual.

'We realised that blokes in those days probably had nowhere to put their wallets because their pants were so tight,' jokes Fiorentino, 'so maybe that was what the big hair was really for.'

Fiorentino endures this process daily before going on stage and - remembering his character Tony Manero's displeasure when his father unwittingly messes his hair at the dinner table - it's wise to stand back and simply admire the slicked mullet in all its glory.

Suffice to say, he is to be kept far away from naked flames.

Responsible for ensuring the cast hit the stage with hairdos rather than hair don'ts is the wigs and wardrobes team. The washing, blow-drying, combing, quaffing and spraying is done by Sharon Case, who heads up the department with Christine Mutton.

Along with the rest of the travelling spectacle, they are working towards the show's Hong Kong debut on May 21.

'In our department we've got a combination of wigs, and the actors actually using their own hair as well,' Case shouts above the screaming blow-dryer. 'A lot of the boys use their own hair, apart from those who wear afros, or those in character roles. The girls are using hairpieces or wigs.'

With more than 32 wigs in use on any given night, it's the team's job to create and maintain as many different looks as they can to make the disco scenes as genuine as possible, says Case.

'Sometimes you can have someone who is a certain character one day and then has to be somebody else the next. So you recreate the whole era and it becomes quick and easy.'

Of course the hair would be nothing without the costumes, and Mutton is the lady in charge of getting that white suit whiter than white in time for the next performance.

'I've been doing this for 18 months now, she says. 'Things are being worn eight times a week so my job is to maintain them through that process. We've got two ladies who come in daily. One washes, and one mends throughout the day.'

There are four copies of the white suit altogether.

'The suit's made to allow a certain flexibility when dancing without losing its look of tightness,' says Fiorentino. 'So it's not too uncomfortable. It just gets a bit hot for the final few scenes.'

Sighs Mutton: 'Every time Adam steps out on to that stage, those suits have to look brand new. Thankfully, it's amazing what the lights can do.'