Kaylan Paisley claims her favorite hairspray is Ultraclutch. That's a fictional brand touted in the musical “Hairspray,” but Paisley is only partly kidding. Her love of the make-believe world of theater is as real as her love of hair.
A professional wig stylist who has worked on three Broadway tours, Paisley, 27, heads a crew of eight who are styling more than 50 wigs for the Omaha Community Playhouse production of “Hairspray,” which opens Friday.
The show, based on John Waters' nonmusical 1988 movie, tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, a plump teen in 1962 Baltimore. Her dream is to appear on Corny Collins's local TV dance show, despite her heavyset mother Edna's fears she will be ridiculed for her weight.
When Tracy wins a spot on the show, she launches a campaign to racially integrate it.
“Hairspray” won eight Tonys in 2003, including best musical. A movie version of the musical followed in 2007.
For those not old enough to have lived it, 1962 was big-hair heaven, all about ratting and teasing, beehives and flips.
“My mother was a hairdresser before I was born,” Paisley said last week between stylings at the Playhouse. “When I was a wardrobe apprentice at the Playhouse during high school, I dabbled just a touch in wigs, enough to get me interested. I saw I could do hair and theater, and put my two loves together.”
At the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, she earned a bachelor's degree in wig and makeup design for theater and film in 2008. Between classes, she styled wigs for the Playhouse's 2005 production of “Ragtime” and for its 2006 update of “A Christmas Carol.”
She went on national tour with “Cats” as an assistant hair stylist, then worked on “101 Dalmations” on Broadway before touring with that show as hair supervisor. Last year she was hair supervisor for the “Legally Blonde” tour.
But the volume of work needed for “Hairspray” rivals them all, Paisley said.
“This show is all about the hair,” said Georgiann Regan, the Playhouse's longtime costume designer. “It's a huge job, as big as the wardrobe.”
“The hair itself is almost a character,” Paisley said.
So, when Regan heard Paisley wanted to return to Omaha to complete her cosmetology license, she was delighted to offer her the job. It's the first time a Playhouse program has credited a hair and wig designer.
“ ‘Hairspray' has been a dream of mine to get to design,” Paisley said. “It's my favorite show, period.”
Paisley and Regan began research for the show last fall. They used everything from reference books on period hairstyles to online resources and photos snipped from magazines.
In March they took stock of wigs the Playhouse had from past shows, then bought about a dozen more.
“It was important we get the look we wanted,” Regan said. “From scratch, the wig budget would have blown us out of the water. We work with what we've got.”
Paisley knew she would need lots of volunteer help.
Postings on Facebook and a Playhouse blog resulted in seven licensed cosmetologists stepping up. They offered to not only help style the wigs, but be backstage each night of the show's monthlong run to help with wig maintenance, styling emergencies and quick wig changes. One cast member will wear five different wigs nightly.
“I love every single one of my crew, more and more each day,” Paisley said. “I could never have done it without them. Rollers in the hair and ratting, this is labor-intensive foundation work you have to have to get to that '60s look.”
Paisley began training the crew by conducting a class on how to work with wigs, both synthetic and human hair. Younger cosmetologists had less exposure to wigs, so they were glad for the extra expertise.
Wig styling began in early April and took place three days a week. Mondays were the most productive day, since most salons where volunteers work are closed that day.
On a recent Monday, three volunteers joined Paisley in the back room of the Playhouse's costume shop, where a four-station mirrored styling area had been set up. Wigs on stands covered seemingly every flat surface in sight.
“Oh, look at her bangs. Love those,” Paisley told Linda Fries, 61, as Fries swooped hair up into a blonde beehive that sort of exploded outward at the top. The base included a French seam in back, a braid above the forehead and an enormous, curled set of bangs. “I would say you're ready for a fitting,” Paisley told Fries.
Nearby, Ashley Heesacker, 21, was creating a brunette beehive over a base of chicken wire and cotton batting. Heesacker, who works at Regis salon in Oakview Mall, chatted with former cosmetology classmate and fellow volunteer Elliot Dougherty, 22, about their weekend.
“Don't you love these wigs?” Dougherty asked the crew. “They don't complain, don't talk back.”
“And you can back-comb as hard as you want,” Fries smiled.
Dougherty, who works at Salon Luxe near 168th Street and West Center Road, labored over a ratted blonde wig covered in large pincurls atop a poof to give it volume.
Paisley laughed as she recalled that a young cast member recently asked whether 1960s hair really looked like the wigs.
“I told her it was a cartoon exaggeration of what they looked like.”
While Dougherty had never styled hair for theater, Heesacker worked on wigs for “A Christmas Carol” and Fries did lots of styling for school plays at Brownell-Talbot, where she's a secretary.
“It's just fun,” Fries said. “You get to use your creativity and do things you can't do in a salon. Taking out rollers and papers is the biggest pain.”
“It'd be cool to do this on a real head of hair,” Dougherty said. “But that's not really a look anymore.”
Do they still use hairspray with today's styles?
“Oh, yes,” Dougherty said, “but it's a whole different kind. Not superhold.”
They'll be using plenty of superhold on the wigs.
While Heesacker has seen only the nonmusical version of “Hairspray,” Dougherty has seen only the musical movie, starring John Travolta as Tracy's mother.
“It was funny, it was different,” he said. “The hair was cool.”
“Not as cool as ours,” Fries said smiling.
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