Wig master Tim Bohle describes why ‘Wash That Man’ works so well 

San Francisco-based wig master Tim Bohle has good reason to call “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” from “South Pacific” one of the most magical moments in theater.

The wig designer, who is consulting on Foothill Music Theatre’s current production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s classic musical in Los Altos, has plenty of experience with the number, in which nurse Nellie Forbush gives herself a shampoo right on stage.

It looks fun, and it’s among the show’s most memorable segments, but it’s also challenging, says Bohle, who was wig and makeup supervisor for the Lincoln Center production of the show in New York in 2009.

“Technically, it’s two days on the shower scene,” adds Bohle, who worked out the kinks during the show’s pre-New York run at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre.

“You learn about water pressure, and you need to make sure everyone is safe,” he says, adding that a problem in The City — when foam got flung into the orchestra pit and “the musicians went crazy” — was not repeated in New York.

The trick to the scene involves using two wigs, one wet and one dry, under which the microphone’s battery pack, covered with plastic sealant, is stored.

The actress playing Nellie (Madison Genovese at Foothill) must make sure she doesn’t rub too hard, or put too much soap on the wig, which can’t move. After the number, Nellie goes offstage, and in four or five minutes, she’s back with lovely dry hair; meanwhile, the wet wig gets a rinse and set.

People cannot believe the hair is not the actresses’ own, says Bohle, who started his theater career as an actor, and even appeared in a production of “South Pacific” in San Mateo in 1991.

Invited by director Milissa Carey to consult on the Foothill show, Bohle — who recently worked on Broadway with Bryan Cranston in “All The Way,” and was wig supervisor for “Anything Goes” on tour — has enjoyed advising members of the local cast.

“For me, it’s quite emotional, and fun, to come home, and back to your roots,” he says, and to see the sparkle in the young actors’ eyes.

He also has come to terms with the fact that he has transitioned from an actor who does hair to a wig person who also is an actor: “I can be just as gifted offstage, even though I get no curtain calls or standing ovations,” he says.

Describing hair and makeup people as “the bastard cousins of the theater,” Bohle calls his work “the cherry on the sundae” and keeps in mind advice he got from his esteemed teacher, Richard Stead, who told him to be prepared to be noticed only if his wigs look bad.

IF YOU GO

South Pacific

Presented by Foothill Music Theatre

Where: Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, closes Aug. 10

Tickets: $10 to $32

Contact: (650) 949-7360, www.foothillmusicals.com

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Leslie Katz

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