From "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" in New York to "Scrooge" in Yorba Linda?
Some might see that as a leap from the extraordinary to the prosaic, but not Jeff Raum. He sees the Yorba Linda Civic Light Opera's production of "Scrooge," which opens Tuesday, as an opportunity to tap into two sides of his creativity at once. The artist who helped develop the surreal environs of television's "Playhouse" will perform the title role in the musical production and will create the character's distinctive look.
Raum, 30, has done makeup and theatrical design, mostly in New York, for several years. Besides transforming a studio into Pee-Wee's playhouse, he helped devise much of the elaborate makeup for two major Broadway shows, "I'm Not Rappaport" and "Into the Woods."
The Van Nuys resident manages a company that executes murals, trompe l'oeil and other faux finishes for homes and businesses. But he still does occasional stage projects. "I just thought ("Scrooge") would be a lot of fun, getting the chance to be both a visual artist and a performing artist," he said. "It has been great, but a lot of work, too."
Raum spends as much as two hours turning himself from a nice young guy into one of the world's sturdiest symbols of mendacity. It takes time to get the prosthetic nose just right, then there's the wig to deal with. . . .
The makeup requires a patient hand and attention to detail. "At one point, I go out into the audience, so it has to look authentic and hold up to close scrutiny. The demands are there," he said. "You can't take it casually."
But the payoff, he continued, is not only a convincing appearance but a resonance that the makeup helps bring to his performance. "I really feel my personality changing . . . it really clicks when I get the makeup and clothes on and feel the character coming through. People have said I'm different during dress rehearsals, more real and vivid."
This isn't Raum's first acting role. Although he started feeling early on that his talents are more on the technical side, he has acted since high school in Cockeysville, a suburb of Baltimore, in professional as well as amateur productions of "The Dresser," "A Man for All Seasons," "Twelfth Night" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
His approach to "Scrooge" is straightforward. "I play him pretty traditionally, much the way Dickens' describes him. People go to the show not expecting to see something new; they go to see an old friend, so I don't deviate too much from what the audience expects."
After graduating from the University of Dayton in 1983 with an art degree, Raum worked briefly for an advertising firm in Washington, D.C., before moving to New York City to join Broadcast Arts, which developed animated television commercials and "Pee-Wee's Playhouse."
Though he didn't get a chance to work with Pee-Wee himself, Raum found the "Playhouse" job to be a real hoot. "I designed some of the characters, like the dinosaur family, the magic screen, Globey and a few others. . . . I enjoyed it because it was so off the wall, there was a lot of freedom in the approach."
Raum described his work on "Into the Woods" and "I'm Not Rappaport" as exciting and demanding. For "Woods," he applied the makeup for the witch, Rapunzel, the wolf and several other key characters; for "Rappaport" he helped age actor Hal Linden by about 20 years.