From Kinky Boots to Broadway Bares, MAC Cosmetics Shine in the LGBT Spotlight

As part of Playbill.com's 30 Days of Pride, we look at MAC cosmetics and MAC AIDS Fund's colorful connection to the Broadway community. 

Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Photo by Joan Marcus)

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From Hedwig's blue eye shadow in Hedwig and the Angry Inch to Elphaba's green, well, everything in Wicked, MAC has helped create some of the most iconic faces on Broadway.

MAC, which fittingly stands for Makeup Arts Cosmetics, was founded in 1985, and the Canadian company's first U.S. store opened in 1991 in New York City. Co-founders Frank Angelo and Frank Toskan, both gay men, also partnered with MAC artists in 1994 to create the MAC AIDS Fund, an organization focused on ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic through fundraising and community outreach. The foundation has raised more than $300 million through the sale of its VIVA Glam lipstick, which was created exclusively to raise money and awareness for HIV/AIDS — notably at a time when the epidemic, still stigmatized as a gay disease, was dramatically affecting the fashion, makeup, and theatre communities. MAC AIDS Fund's signature VIVA Glam campaign has featured Broadway alums such as Ricky Martin, Cyndi Lauper, k.d. lang, and even Dame Edna as spokespeople.

After famously beautifying Les Cagelles, the scene-stealing gender illusionists in the 2004 and 2010 revivals of La Cage aux Folles, MAC, one of the few cosmetics companies to openly market to male consumers, continues to prove its profound powers of transformation as the official makeup provider for Hedwig and Kinky Boots. MAC currently provides makeup support for 13 Broadway shows, including LGBT-inclusive musicals  If/Then and Cabaret.

Billy Porter
Photo by Matthew Murphy

It's a drag-focused musical to which Romero Jennings, MAC director of makeup artistry points to as one of his favorite theatrical partnerships. " Kinky Boots really stands out as a show that fully showcases the wide range of MAC," he says. "The colors, foundation options, and makeup tools are suitable for all skin tones and types, and there are so many performers with different skin tones in that show. Our products last and stay true even in stressful situations of a physically demanding Broadway show."

As the second-largest private donor to HIV/AIDS organizations, MAC AIDS Fund also has a long history as an event sponsor for Broadway Bares, the New York theatre community's annual burlesque fundraiser benefiting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Through the sale of VIVA Glam lip products, MAC AIDS Fund has supported BC/EFA with $2.3 million since 1997.

" Broadway Bares is a perfect fit for us," says Nancy Mahon, senior vice president of MAC and global executive director of MAC AIDS Fund. "Not only does it support the cause that is near and dear to our entire staff, but the 70 MAC artists that volunteer backstage are really able to shine and create amazing looks for the performers."

Though she doesn't disrobe herself, Mahon attends Broadway Bares to personally deliver MAC AIDS Fund's donation. "Presenting the check at Broadway Bares is one of my favorite things to do," she says. "When you are onstage surrounded by dancers, singers, actors, makeup artists, a loving audience, and a truckload of glitter, you just feel this incredible excitement in the air from every person. We are all there for the same reason: the fight against HIV/AIDS."

To paraphrase La Cage, it's a perfect excuse to put a little more mascara on.