The Secret To Doing Meryl Streep Drag

“Billy on the Street” designer Daniel Dabdoub on how he transforms the actors in “Streepshow!”

In the off-Broadway comedy Streepshow!, male and female actors play 14 iconic Meryl Streep movie characters competing Big Brother-style for a chance to rewrite their stories.

Written by Jay Stull and directed by Andrew Neisler, the play features dramatic costume, makeup, and hair design by Daniel Dabdoub, production designer for TruTV’s Billy on the Street.

Dabdoub details the magic behind making multiple Meryls come to life on one stage.

When did you join the Streepshow! creative team?

Andrew, the director, came to me in 2014 when they were working on it and needed someone to do the costumes. He thought maybe I could find someone else to do hair and makeup, but I secretly knew I was going to that as well.

Did you immerse yourself in Meryl Streep movies?

Yeah, I had to see some movies I’d never seen before, like She-Devil. Then I had to think about which looks were most iconic or called back to specific iconic scenes. We also had to find the right looks for the actors, who all have different shapes and personalities. Finding certain pieces was challenging, but if I can’t find something, I’ll just make it.

Which looks were the hardest to pull off?

The harder ones were actually characters that people are more likely to recognize, like Miranda Priestly from Devil Wears Prada. Not as many people may have seen movies like She-Devil or Kramer vs. Kramer, so I get to have a little more fun playing around with those looks.

Is it more difficult to transform the guys than the girls?

Drag is hard in terms of technical things like making eyebrows disappear and making body shapes look feminine. But we try to make all the actors look like the same species of Meryl Streep, so even the women look like drag queens. They’re all drag Meryls, male or female—and if I did my job right, you won’t immediately be able to tell the difference.

Some of the guys aren’t exactly ready for Drag Race. The actor playing Madeline Ashton from Death Becomes Her shows off his chest hair, and there probably isn’t much tucking.

Well, we’re also acknowledging the fakeness of the things we put on our bodies to play a character every day. The show hints at all of us being connected as people, so seeing a little of the performer behind the drag makeup tells another story that goes beyond the laughs.

Eric Emch

How do you create a Streepian face? Because those mugs are contoured for the gods.

Oh, yes, honey. When I looked at Meryl’s face and practiced the makeup on my face first, thinking about what to highlight, it was her cheeks, chin, eyebrows, and thin, pointy nose. Then I stopped looking at Meryl’s face, and all those things evolved on their own. The actors may not look exactly like Streep, but they all look like the same kind of Streep.

Which Streep character is your spirit animal?

A combination of Clarissa Vaughn from The Hours and Mary Fisher from She-Devil—intellectual and put-together versus crazy and fabulous. I aspire to live right in the middle of those two.

Do you think Meryl is aware of the show?

Probably not, because we haven’t been sued. [Laughs] But Meryl, if you’re reading this, you have a seat in the audience anytime you want.

Eric Emch

Tell me about your Billy on the Street gig.

I’ve worked on the show for three seasons, and it’s been one of my favorite jobs ever. It’s the perfect marriage of my aesthetic, interests, and skills. As production designer this past season, I worked with Billy and the writers on designing all the art you see on the show, from the prizes—like a diorama or doll—to the obstacle courses. I was also in charge of designing all the costumes.

Any memorable celebrity encounters?

I have the awkward honor of putting major celebrities in really weird positions: I once had to dress Andy Samberg as the Dreamworks logo’s “boy in the moon,” and there was a harness that went through his legs. I’ll always remember the people who just put something on and make it work, because they make everything I do look good. The performers on Streepshow! do that, too.

Streepshow! runs through June 24 at the Connelly Theatre in New York.

Celebrity interviewer. Foodie and Broadway buff in Manhattan. Hates writing bios.
@brandonvoss