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As Hugh Panaro sat comfortably in his make-up chair in New York’s Majestic Theatre, Thelma Pollard began transforming his hair and face for the starring role in Broadway’s longest running show. She fitted the specially designed signature mask and the microphones and in less than three hours had Panaro, a talented professional, ready for the glittering stage. With a broad smile on his face, the actor paid Thelma the ultimate compliment. “She is the best on Broadway,” he said. “With her make-up, she helps me to get into character even before I go on stage. I feel at ease and confident when she is finished. No one else can do what she does.” And as if to add an exclamation point to his words, he went before a packed theatre and gave an electrifying performance as the Phantom in the hit musical that has been on Broadway for more than 24 years, longer than any other show in the history of theatre in New York. Thelma, the chief hair and make-up artist for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s exciting Phantom Of The Opera, worked magic with her fingers and tremendous skill, and summed up the situation perfectly. “I thoroughly enjoy what I do,” said the down-to-earth Barbadian who may soon find herself in the Guinness Book Of Records as the longest serving production make-up supervisor in the long history of Broadway, the world’s best known theatrical centre. After the curtain came down on the evening’s performance and the cast was taking its last bow, hundreds of theatre-goers gave Panaro a thunderous standing ovation. Minutes later, he was back in the dressing room and Thelma was there to return him to his natural self. “I wouldn’t want it any other way,” said Panaro. It’s not difficult to see why the Bajan is so highly regarded and why she has risen to the top in her profession at the Phantom Broadway Company and all of its related operations in the United States. For she moves with remarkable self-assurance, displaying care and precision. As the supervisor, she teaches the actors their make-up for the different characters they portray; guides the other make-up artists on how to apply and maintain the make-up for the entire production during her absence; and instructs them on how to recreate the make-up designs to suit the shapes of the faces and the skin colours of new cast members. “I have been with Phantom from the beginning, going back to 1987 when the pre-production phase started,” she said. “It has been thoroughly enjoyable and I look forward to continuing with the show.” Even after doing make-up for more than 9 000 of the 10 000 performances since the multiple Tony Award-winning production had its opening night in January 1988, Thelma is at the top of her game, with no indication of becoming stale or slowing down. She has done the hair on every actor who has played the lead role of Phantom, beginning with Michael Crawford. She created the make-up for the former television star, Robert Guillame, the first black man to play the Phantom in Los Angeles. “It’s very exciting,” she said. But the Phantom Of The Opera – which has grossed nearly US$850 million on Broadway where almost 15 million people have flocked to its performances, brought in US$3 billion from performances in different parts of the United States, seen by 130 million theatre-goers in 144 cities in 27 countries and grossed US$5.6 billion worldwide – isn’t the only item on Thelma’s impressive biography. Dating back to the 1970s when The Wiz, with Geoffrey Holder, was the hottest musical on Broadway, the Bajan has done make-up for actors in such Broadway shows as Cats, Dream Girls, Much Ado About Nothing, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s New York production of Cyrano de Bergerac, and Song And Dance, among other productions. She has also worked on such films as See You In September, Malcolm X with Denzel Washington, The Preacher’s Wife, Beloved, the BBC’s Money For Nothing, Notorious BIG, and several other movies. But that’s not all. The woman who grew up in a large working class and artistic family in Charnocks, Christ Church, and who attended Christ Church High School, has a long list of television credits to her name. The make-up artist for ESPN, the Dionne Warwick special at the Kennedy Centre in Washington; for shows taped during games at New York’s Tennis Centre and which were broadcast on the Tennis Channel; the nationally televised Saturday Night Live, and the soap opera The Guiding Light, Thelma also designed the hair for the original opening number and styled the hair for all the stars on television’s Showtime At The Apollo. Thelma has travelled extensively across North America and Europe, lived in Paris and Toronto doing her work and has met Andrew Lloyd Webber, the composer of the music in Phantom Of The Opera and Cats, the two longest-running shows in Broadway history. With her sister Pearlita Price, a former private school teacher in Brooklyn, working on the Phantom as an expert make-up artist, and a niece, Grace Price, a member of show’s Broadway crew, Thelma has seen many of her students earn their way in the world of theatre, television or film. Some have established their own businesses as beauticians. “I have helped many young people to get a start,” she said. “I will continue to assist young people as best as I can in this field or in any other way. I am deeply interested in where young people are going and I try to help and to guide them. That’s why I give up so much of my time going into schools and talking to young people about their lives and careers.” But there is another side to the Barbadian. It’s her interest in the rights of workers. A founding member of Broadway’s Hairstylist and Make-Up Artists Union, Thelma served for 15 years on its board of trustees, helping to negotiate contracts, wrote newsletters and conducted monthly membership meetings. “It’s important that people be adequately compensated for their work,” said the woman, who 30 years ago won a silver medal as a member of the all-black female design team in the World Hair Olympics in Paris. “That was quite an experience,” she added. Thelma, who holds diplomas, licences and certificates in cosmetology, is a certified clinical make-up artist and is recognized as the “best” in her field on or outside of Broadway. That explains why she is often called upon to answer thorny questions about make-up. “Ask Thelma about that,” some crew members advise Broadway and movie producers. She credits her parents with guiding their ten children, encouraging them to learn foreign languages and to express themselves, for the heights they have reached. “My father was a construction worker by day and a musician at night,” she recalled. “He encouraged us and our mother was always there. My sister, Catherine, a trained opera singer, sang with the musical hit show Showboat and we are all interested in giving back something to society.” The Phantom Of The Opera, the most successful entertainment venture of all time, is based on the classic novel Le Fantome de L’Opera by Gaston Leroux. It tells the story of a masked figure (Panaro) who lurks beneath the catacombs of the Paris Opera House, imposing a reign of terror over those who inhabit it. He falls madly in love with a beautiful and innocent soprano, Christine, played by the exciting Trista Moldovan. Employing all of the devious methods at his command, the Phantom woos her and nurtures her career.