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A new swing on the '20s look
May 13, 2005

  By Marika Sboros

It's a heavy street look, an updated version of sultry, sensual 1920s glamour, and you don't have to be a merry murderess to get it right.

Chicago - The Musical, the hit Broadway show presently on at the Civic Theatre, puts a whole new face on the make-up look popular during the flapper era thanks to the expertise of make-up artist Gillian Lentin.

She has adapted and modernised the basic '20s look for faces to support the talented all-South African 23-member cast as they razzle, dazzle and dance their way through a murky plot set in the gangster heartland of Chicago.

The storyline centres around Roxie Hart (played by Samantha Peo, and in the musical's screen version by Renée Zellweger), who longs for the one big break that will make her a star. Instead she lands up in jail for murdering her lover, alongside a host of more merry murderesses, among them Velma Kelly (played by Amra-Faye Wright, and the on-screen role that won Catherine Zeta-Jones an Oscar). She's awaiting trial for the murder of her husband and sister, who she caught in flagrante delicto.

Lentin says she has kept the defining elements of roaring '20s faces - the dark, smoky eyes and defined, cupid-bow mouths, and added a fashion feel to produce a "Chicago look" that is consistent throughout the cast.

The look is smouldering and red-hot sexy in keeping with the musical's raunchy content, and it's also a look that easily translates off-stage.

Lentin has chosen to use Mac products, the pigment-rich American professional make-up range used worldwide for fashion, stage and runway shows.

Eyes are kept shadowy and darkly brooding, with Boot Black eye-liner and Embark shadow. Brows are well-defined with Carbon eye-shadow.

Lips are also well defined in a clear, passionate hue with Russian Red.

To prevent the look spilling from over-the-top into tacky, Lentin avoids blusher completely. Instead, she says she uses different shades and tones of foundation to create facial contours - and to make it look as if Mother Nature was having a really good day when she gave out the skin.

Of course, she has to make adjustments for each individual face. Some faces can take a smokey eye lid, she says, while others require more contouring of the cheek lines.

At the heart of her work is creating synchronicity between all the female cast members, and preserving a look that harks back to the 1920s, but isn't dated.

On this page, she shows how she transforms the faces of ensemble dancers from the cast, Salome Sechele (who also plays merry murderess Annie) and Natasha Staples (who plays murderous Mona).

The look is very matte, with no sheen at all. That doesn't mean you have to consign all your lip glosses and shiny foundations to the garbage bin.

Lentin isn't at all prescriptive, and says there's nothing wrong with adding some gloss off stage. Mac Russian Red comes in a gloss as well.

After all, as Lentin says, a look is not about slavishly following fashion, but feeling good about what you see in the mirror.

  • Chicago - The Musical is on at The Johannesburg Civic Theatre from April 26 to July 3. Thereafter, it moves to the Artscape Theatre, Cape Town, for a limited season opening on July 19.

    Booking is through Computicket on 011-340-8000 or on line at

    For show information, call the Chicago Hotline on 082-286-0444.

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