The witches of Wicked on Broadway
What was your first contact with Wicked?
Well, I played Elphaba in the West End Wicked for nearly three years. So [director] Joe Mantello and I go way back. But I didn’t get the chance to really properly work with him until [last season’s] The Last Ship, in which I created the role of Meg. Then the sad news of Last Ship closing came in January of last year, so after two days of crying, I text Joe and was like, “Any chance you’d want a certain Irish girl to play a certain green part anytime soon?” And he instantly texted back, “I’m on it.”
What the difference between playing Elphaba on the West End versus Broadway?
Firstly, the accent. I did an English accent in London, and just general American over here. The stage is slightly different: It’s wider but narrower. It was an interesting process: going back to a role I knew and adore, being a bit more mature. I could concentrate on digging deep and getting more.
Any impressions of the fans at the stage door?
Oh, I’ve had quite a few English Wicked fans coming over to support me. Their take on Wicked is interesting, seeing and hearing me speak and sing with an American accent. The support has been really surprising.
You grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during the Troubles. Does that inform your take on Elphaba’s struggle at all?
Well, I was brought up very well, and neutrally. My best friend was Protestant; I’m Catholic. So my parents weren’t taking sides. And my father is an entertainer, so music was always in the house. It’s not like I chose the arts to get away from the Troubles. Don’t get me wrong: There are fine actors and actresses who’ve come out of Belfast and terrible upbringings, and their only escape has been the arts.
Favorite song or moment?
You know, it’s funny. In London I used to really dread “The Wizard and I.” It was at the top of the show, very sing-speak-y, and I wasn’t warmed up yet. By the time you get to “Defying Gravity” you’re loosened up and everything’s moving well. But I adore “Wizard and I” over here. I’ve discovered the story of it for myself. I perform it less; it’s Elphaba’s internal monologue. That can be a beautiful moment in the show. You get that lovely sense that something inside her dark world is glimmering.
You must have been a teenager when Wicked opened. What was your first contact with it?
My mom took me as a Christmas present when I was in college. It was the only thing I wanted. I actually sat in the seat I sat in the first time I saw it just a few weeks ago to watch a bit of rehearsal. It was kind of a magical, humbling experience. We were a few rows back all the way house right. I'll never forget it. I bawled when Idina ran forward.
You did about three years in Wicked’s national tour. What’s the difference between playing Elphaba on the road versus on Broadway?
Fans are things that are easier and harder about being on tour as opposed to Broadway. Elphaba is much harder on Broadway, in my opinion. Much more running around—and dealing with the raked stage is no joke! But you get to be in the same theater, sleep in the same bed, and have more of a life outside of Wicked, which is nice. On the road, you have to deal with different allergens, different venues (which means vastly varying sound systems), airports (which are my least favorite thing) and never really being able to settle before you have to pack up and leave.
Most original thing a Wicked superfan gave you or asked you to sign?
A piece of paper so they could get a tattoo of my handwriting. I think it's awesome. I love tattoos and if something or someone is meaningful to you, I love that form of expression. I'm honored that my signature resides on two peoples’ bodies.
If you could play any other character who would it be and why?
It's hard to pick just one! If a producer were ever down for gender-blind casting, I would kill to play Bobby in Company.
Do you remember what you felt the first time you saw the show? Or were you always in it from the stage, as an ensemble member or understudy?
I was 16 years old and Wicked was the new hit on Broadway. My mom surprised me for my sweet sixteen with tickets and we came up on a bus with my family and saw the show. By this time I had already memorized the album because I had gotten it for Christmas. I even remember the first time I listened to the music from Wicked. I put it in our CD player and lay on the floor Christmas morning and shut my eyes and listened to every song. I was dreaming of being in the show from the minute I heard those first few exciting chords of "No One Mourns the Wicked." So obviously when I saw the show house left orchestra for the first time I was in Wicked heaven.
What was your fan experience like when you played Elphaba?
Fans are the reason the show is still so wildly successful. I loved meeting them at the stage door. I had a fan once tell me that they liked my Elphaba, but I wasn't their all-time favorite. Then another fan cried when I came out because I was their first Elphaba and they were so touched by the whole Wicked experience, but also by how honestly I played the character, which was so incredible to hear.
Favorite song from Wicked?
"For Good" because the stakes are so high for both girls and you see how much they mean to each other. They are saying goodbye "for good" which is heartbreaking. Kara Lindsay and I always got so emotional saying goodbye.
Right when I moved to the city, the show had opened, so I saw it with Kristin and Idina. I loved it, and thought it was incredible and like nothing I’d ever seen before. I loved the story. I couldn’t believe how clever and well-woven it was. And I thought the story of the girls and their friendship was always moving. I walked out of it feeling like I got so much more than my money’s worth.
Is there an Elphaba that is your favorite?
I’ve only seen Idina and Jackie Burns in it, and they were both great. I haven’t seen enough of them to have a favorite. What I love with this character, and what I love about the Wicked company, is they really are so open to different types of women playing the role and making it their own. Each actress has brought her own essence to Elphaba, and I think it’s cool that we have that freedom.
So which essence of you is in Elphaba?
I think the part that strives for good. I think I tend to do that; we all do. I think I’m pretty passionate about the things I feel are just and right, and so is Elphaba.
How long do you think Wicked will run?
Oh, my gosh! I hope it runs forever! I think there seems to be no end to people who want to come see it, which is amazing. I hope it runs at least another ten years!
What is your favorite moment in the show?
I love the scene at the dance, when Elphaba and Glinda first connect and they dance together. I think it’s just a beautifully done moment. I look forward to doing it every night. And it’s so cool that on a big stage and a big theater you can have those moments. In a show that also has flying monkeys and she’s green—there’s nothing subtle about that—I love the small moments that are heartfelt and moving. It’s what made me want to be an actor.
How many times have you heard people say they’ve seen Wicked?
Oh, I’ve heard from 60 to 100 to 150.
That’s a lot of Wicked; is there a musical you would see that many times?
No! The closest I’ve come was…I saw Light in the Piazza four times. I just thought it was so freaking amazing. And Victoria Clark is such a genius, I just wanted to dissect what she was doing. And I also saw my Glinda, Katie Rose Clarke, in it, before she didWicked.
My favorite moment in the show is the train-station scene. Because it’s so cute and awkward. And when Glinda is on a roll, it’s hard to keep a straight face.
Do you have any tips for moving around in the 35-pound Elphaba gown?
Dance in it, use your hips, and it’ll fly. [Laughs] I don’t know, I got so used to it. One time I had to wear a much lighter one, and I felt so naked. I actually need the dress to have that weight to be able to perform the way I want to. Weird, right?
Do you prefer to perform Wicked in German, Dutch or English?
That’s not easy to answer. German was the language that started my Elphaba career, so it’s very special to me. Dutch is my mother language, so that really felt like I was bringing Elphaba closer to me. But singing in Dutch is more difficult than German, the Dutch “throat sound” makes it sometimes harder. And then I got the chance to play the role on Broadway in its original language. Of course, that made everything fall into place.
Wicked has been performed across the U.S. and internationally. Why do you think the show is so, to borrow a song title, popular?
Because people, no matter where they come from, can relate to the story. Apart from the show having great music, technique and costumes, it has tremendous heart. many people come to me after the show saying they recognized themselves in Elphaba, it moved them and put a smile on their face, and in some cases even helped them to feel a bit stronger. It’s something magical, and I’m very proud to have been and continue to be part of this incomparable phenomenon.
That’s a tough one, because there have been so many amazing fan moments! But the most recent thing was at the end of my run on Broadway. I got really sick, and fans from all over the world made this amazing get-well video that was so touching and beautiful.
Do you have any tips for hitting the “Defying Gravity” high note night after night?
Yeah: Don’t go out to loud bars and drink after the show! Basically, live like a nun!
Out of all the Fiyeros you performed with, which Fiyero is the best kisser?
Hey, what happens in Oz stays in Oz.
Doing Elphaba for quite a chunk of time—I did it in three different companies, almost for three years—basically taught me about my strengths and weaknesses as a performer. I learned how to pace myself, how to give 100 percent without killing yourself physically and vocally. Doing that show eight times a week for a couple of years was very taxing. It helps me a lot now because I know where my limits are, and how to think of other ways to tell the story without hurting yourself.
Can you tell me about a Wicked high moment?
The high was my first night performing at the Gershwin Theatre. It was literally Elphaba’s entrance. You come running down the stage front and center and you stand there and take in what you’re about to do as a character. And getting to do that and being on Broadway for the first time in such a huge show, in such an iconic role, I literally stood there for a moment and almost broke down and cried. It was like, Hi, dream!
What about a low moment?
One of the lows, I don’t know… I had times where it was really hard to sing it every night, and my body was just screwed up because of the physical choices I made for the character. I reached a point where it was really hard to do the show, and I kept getting sick, and all of these things were colliding. And I didn’t know I was going to survive it…but I did! It was hard with that role. Once you start, and you realize in the middle of the show that you don’t have the energy or power to finish the show, it’s really scary. I feel like almost everyone has had that one performance where you’re just like, Oh my God, what am I doing? I don’t think I can sing this! I have five more 11 o’clock numbers to sing, and we just started! We’re only in the first act! That happens.
Were there any memorable technical glitches?
I feel like we had a lot. There have been shows where the “Defying Gravity” flight mechanism didn’t work. So I basically didn’t fly, and had to run down to the edge of the stage and sing. And then there was my suitcase. At the beginning of the show, Elphaba has a suitcase in her hand when she runs onstage for the first time. It’s a prop that’s there throughout her first number. I had a show where, right before I run down the stage, one of the handles of the suitcase breaks. And then the door opens, and I start running, and the handle breaks completely! And the suitcase flies away from me and down the stage, heading straight toward our musical director. Luckily, it stopped before it reached him. So that was my entrance: a flying suitcase. That actually happened to me twice! I don’t know why that is. That’s my signature thing. I break suitcases.
Out of the Glindas you’ve performed with, which one is your favorite?
That’s not fair! I’ve been lucky—the Glindas that I’ve performed with are some of the best that have ever played the role. They are all very, very different. Can I say all three of them? My first Glinda ever was Megan Hilty, and I love her. She’s amazing and her Glinda is crazy. She introduced me to the world of Wicked. I had Kendra Kassebaum in San Francisco, and she’s a beautiful person and actress. And my Broadway Glinda was Katie Rose Clarke. She holds a special place in my heart. I had such a wonderful time with her, and I think she’s incredible and surprisingly strong and vulnerable and funny, and her voice blows my mind. And she’s my Broadway Glinda. She’s very special.
How many times have you seen the show?
I don’t know.… I only saw it once before I was actually in the company. And then when I joined the Los Angeles company, I was the standby for two months, so I watched the show a lot. I’ll probably see it again. You have to get some distance first!
I actually started in Wicked during one of its first readings. It was one of my first jobs in New York. I was part of an incredible ensemble of actors for that reading and was able to experience the early magic of Wicked. I remember sitting between Christian Borle and Celia Keenan-Bolger, and we were all just starting our careers. It was a full circle, ending my journey in Wicked playing Elphaba on Broadway. From that first reading, my career had changed dramatically, and Wicked had grown into one of the biggest shows of all time. The show opened my life up to meeting so many incredible people. Along with the incomparable cast and crew, the fans are so supportive and welcomed me with open arms.
Is there a Glinda that you wished you could have performed with?
I really have to stay loyal to my Glinda, Katie Rose Clarke. In this show, being able to count on that other person to be there with you from the moment you run or fly onto that stage is something the two of you will always share.
What was your favorite song to sing?
“The Wizard and I.” It was my first song out of the gate, and it’s where you really get to meet Elphaba. She lets her walls down. She’s so vulnerable and tells you about all her hopes and dreams. It’s a beautiful moment that I loved.
Do you have any tips for removing the green makeup?
I would remove the green makeup by washing my face with Neutrogena after the show and using a washcloth around my hairline to really scrub it out. I had a faded green tint around my hairline for about three months after leaving the show. Also, if you have light-colored sheets, definitely change your pillowcase to something darker or eventually they will turn green. Elphaba definitely stayed with me!
My tip for hitting any high note is: Don’t think about it. Seriously. We focus so hard on “getting it right” that it can sometimes mess you up. It’s all one song, and some notes are higher, some are lower. I just allow my voice to do what it wants and keep out whatever that is in my head trying to convince me that I can or can’t do it. Sometimes I win, sometimes I don’t.
Has any Elphaba influenced your performance?
I haven’t seen many Elphabas, but I’ve loved the ones I’ve seen. Jackie Burns is so effortless, and Teal Wicks has this cool hippie take. But I think the one that influenced me the most is Stephanie J. Block. She is a huge risk taker and nothing is off-limits.… I needed to see how far I could push Elphie, and I learned that from her.
What was the biggest difference between doing it on a Broadway stage versus a touring stage?
For the show, there aren’t many differences for the actors, other than some backstage choreography and, of course, the schedule. The difference comes socially. I mean, if you are all in the same city, all looking for the best doughnut or the coolest exhibit, you are bound to be a little closer than in New York, where everyone has their normal lives to carry on with. It’s like a suspension of normal life when you’re on tour, because all you have is each other. Of course, the casts are always übertalented, and the audiences are sending their appreciation in bucket loads no matter what city, New York included. I do like the idea of a tour, in that those who can’t get to Broadway get to see the show with the same quality, just closer to home.
Why is the show so popular?
There are so many reasons. Nostalgia for The Wizard of Oz can’t be overlooked. People like fresh and new, and they also like what is familiar, and Wicked manages the impossible by giving us both. Seeing the Wicked Witch of the West as a heroine is fun…and mostly unexpected. You also can’t discount the friendship between Glinda and Elphaba. We all have judged someone mistakenly at some time in our lives. Witnessing the relationship between the girls grow from something ugly into something beautiful is captivating, and at the same time we can identify with it.
The role and the show were just compelling for me. I did Broadway before [Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me], and I heard the Wicked CD and didn’t think anyone could belt that high! Then I saw it in Chicago with Ana Gasteyer. And with her, I saw someone who did similar things that I did, like sketch comedy, and I saw how awesome the part was. And most girls who see it think, I have to do it. I still get excited seeing it. When I did it the second time on tour and had to watch it again, I still got chills and started crying. Partly because I knew how badly my body was going to hurt in 24 hours, and also just because I never get tired of watching it.
When you did Elphaba, did you bring out some lightness in her?
I think what’s great about the script is they put in a defense mechanism of humor, which is what outcasts can identify with. Being more of a nerdy person in school, I would resort to humor to fit into the crowd, a lot of self-deprecating humor. The way Elphaba has to act to keep herself protected, and the things that she says, and her quick jokes and quick humor… She’s really smart and witty, and she’s dry, and she’s learned how to have comebacks to protect herself. I think I played that up a little bit because I identified with that notion of always having a joke or a comeback to keep yourself protected.
If you could talk to Elphaba, what advice would you give her?
I feel like I’d ask her for advice; she’s a lot tougher than me! Just: How do you do it every day? I would give her a hug, say, “I love you. It’ll be okay. And stay strong.” I’d ask her for advice.
How she manages to not compromise, even though she stands in danger of social suicide. I don’t know how the laws of the Wicked world work, but how does she find the strength to let what she believes override the world that she’s got, and how does she manage to keep her integrity? I would ask her how she stays strong. She sticks up for the little person. And she’s the ultimate little person.
And I would think you could relate to her, having been green yourself.
I sometimes feel more beautiful green. I get so bored with my regular look, I want to be green again. It’s a blank slate—they can add cheekbones, straighten things out. And I think second-act Elphaba is fierce. She’s pretty hot. I love seeing the pictures of new girls green. For some people it doesn’t change how they look, and others, they become a different person. But every time it’s so gorgeous. And the makeup design is genius; it just transforms whoever is in it. It’s amazing.
Which outfit is your favorite to wear?
There’s nothing like that second-act dress, it’s one of the most fabulous pieces I’ve ever worn. They make a new one for each actress who plays Elphaba, so every single one is its own individual creation. It’s hard to put it on and not feel transformed and powerful.
So it would be the show souvenir you would steal if you could?
I wish I could have it! Just to do some light grocery shopping one day. Dressed in a cape, no big deal… Actually no, I wouldn’t get it dirty like that. I’d use it for an audition or something.
Which Fiyero is the best kisser?
Oh boy! I can’t believe you’re actually asking me this. I can’t answer it because my husband got so upset that I had to kiss so many Fiyeros. It was basically an issue every night. I can blame Wicked for causing a slightly tumultuous moment in my marriage. [Laughs] No comment! For the sake of my marriage, no comment. Wait: My husband just said in the background, “Whatever, it’s Aaron Tveit.”
I did have a few nervous moments, thinking I would say the other sister’s line if I wasn’t paying attention! Of course, that was quickly resolved with many, many run-throughs of the scenes. I loved being able to play both perspectives. On one hand you have a girl that society would see as beautiful on the outside, but who was truly tortured on the inside. Then you have Elphaba, who was an outcast because of her appearance but emanated beauty from within. Both feel alone in their skin, and are passionate in their pursuits…but I think that is where their similarities end.
Do you think that eventually, Elphaba and Nessarose would have patched things up if Nessarose hadn’t been hit by a house?
I think Elphaba would have continued to try. Nessarose blamed everyone else for being in that chair, but most of all her sister. I think she was so consumed by her own desires that she would never have been able to see outside herself, sadly. Life had given her so much, but she could only focus on the things that she had lost, which I believe would have clouded any reconciliation with Elphaba.
You’ve worn the iconic silver shoes and Elphaba’s 35-pound dress. Which of those would you want to take home with you?
Oh, no! Don’t make me choose! Can’t I have both? I think they would look fabulous together!
Are there any other roles in the musical you would have wanted to play? It doesn’t have to be limited by gender.
I always thought it would be fun to play Chistery. Who doesn’t want to be a flying monkey?
What was your strategy for removing the green makeup? How fast could you do it?
Every girl uses a different soap, but I had an exfoliating glove that was probably not great for my skin every day, but felt so good at the end of the show. With that and some finishing wipes, I think my record was out of the theater in under 15 minutes. But you can always spot an Elphaba by the green hue in her hairline.
Performing on Broadway was a dream for me, so my favorite moment has to be my first night on Broadway. There are so many great moments throughout the show, I could write a book.
You did the role on the West End and on Broadway. Why did you decide to stick with the character for so long?
Overall, I played Elphaba for two-and-a-half years, and I loved every moment. The opportunity of playing a role on both sides of the pond is rare and a challenge. I was fortunate to be in the original London cast. A year on, I was asked to be in New York for six months, which was magical. I then returned to London for a further six months, which was a perfect way to finish my stint in the role.
How does Elphaba compare to other roles you’ve played?
Elphaba was probably the hardest role I have ever played, but also the most rewarding. Finding my way through was the joy and the challenge. I think it’s one of the toughest roles out there at the moment—but once you conquer it, the feeling is incredible.
How has Wicked changed your career?
It took me to Broadway, led to my first album release and solo tour, and brought me a loyal fan base that support me now in everything I do. I couldn’t have asked for more from the show. It was magical, challenging—heartbreaking at times—but one of the best journeys of my life, and I thank the show and all involved for the experience that has hugely influenced my life.
When we first did the reading, Elphie was very purposeful, angsty, very driven and heavy. And then, I think, because of Kristin Chenoweth’s light and joy, they had to add a lot of humor to Elphaba, to offset those powerful moments. Elphaba became more balanced over the course of the piece, so she got a lot more heart and humor.
Can you give me a job description for playing Elphaba?
This can be answered in so many ways. You’ve gotta have the vocal chops for it. That score is no joke! And to have the endurance to do it eight times a week for at least nine months to a year. And I think every girl—every single girl, no matter how confident or where you are in the popularity spectrum—you’re going to relate to Elphie in some way. When the show opened, she became a fully developed and full-spectrum character. We like to joke and say little girls would either recognize themselves as Glinda or Elphaba, but really, there’s an Elphie in everybody! We’ve all had an experience where we’d doubted ourselves in some way and had to rise up. And that’s part of the success of the show and why fans have shown up multiple times. Anybody that has to play Elphie recognizes a bit of themselves in the character.
Which part of you is in the character?
I always really connected deeply and heavily to “I’m Not That Girl.” It goes back to me being an insecure 12-year-old girl and looking into the mirror going, “I don’t look like anybody else.” I did a lot of workshops and early readings and ended up not being chosen for the part, which was devastating. And so when I finally did that role, it was such a beautiful place to be. Stephen Schwartz said to me, “The way you connect with that song, it goes beyond what’s on the page.”
If you could give Elphaba advice, what would you say?
That she needs to redefine the word troubled or the word bad. And that she’s not an outcast. She’s unique. Kind of taking these labels that have been placed upon her, and all you have to do is flip it around and make a powerful compliment. You can be calledunique instead of strange—just that slight switch makes you feel proud of who you are, as opposed to it being a detriment. Other than her being green, she’s the everygirl!
If you had Elphaba’s magic power, what would you do with it?
For me, I guess that question can be answered differently every day. I think I would want to use the powers for stillness in myself. The world is moving so fast, and everyone’s into their social media and cell phone. In the beginning of the show, Elphaba protects her sister, and everyone stops and retreats. I think we all need to stop and take a couple of steps back. And, of course, flying! Who doesn’t want that freedom? It seems like the obvious answer, but it’s still pretty romantic.
Where does Elphaba rank in the roles you’ve played?
She is certainly in the top three. When I was playing her and was exhausted, it was a love-hate relationship. But when I looked back, it was so amazing. There’s a sorority of Elphabas, and we really do think of us as a club. It’s this tight-knit sorority. There’s a great fondness when we see each other play the role. Being a part of creating it, and then to get to witness the success a decade into it and to see that it’s still touching audiences, you really know you were part of something exceptional and very special. And certain days, Elphie’s No. 1!
It sounds a bit like giving birth.
That’s the perfect analogy! Playing Elphaba is like being in labor! When you’re going through it, you think, This is terrible! My body hurts! And out comes the gift, and you go, I would do that again in a heartbeat. As soon as it’s over, you have amnesia.
Which Fiyero wore the pants best?
I should say my husband [Sebastian Arcelus]! Have you seen Sebastian’s back end? It’s fantastic! Those white pants and that burgundy vest, whoo! The designer, Susan Hilferty, designed those pants for Sebastian’s ass, and he looked divine. That’s one of the assets that got me to marry him.
“No Good Deed.” (a) Elphaba’s finally a grown woman and decides to stop apologizing, which makes her more powerful than ever, which was fun to take on. And (b) it’s the last big one in the show, so it’s sort of a home-stretch song.… You can’t exhale yet, but you’re closer!
You performed opposite Kendra Kassebaum on tour and on Broadway. What were some things you guys liked to do together during your off-hours?
I adore Kendra. One of the first things she said to me was that she was open to whatever I might want to try, and we had such a ball for the next year and a half. Off-hours, we would pretty much eat and then retreat and shut our mouths to get ready for the next show. I also had the great fortune of getting to go on with a bunch of other Glindas (Annaleigh Ashford and Alli Mauzey among them) that I got to adore for shorter stretches of time.
You were on tour and on Broadway. What was the biggest difference?
The biggest physical difference is that on the tour, the stage isn’t raked. You get to Broadway and think, Okay, there’s a little rake to this.… Got it.… But after a while, it creeps into your body in weird ways. There’s also the fact that on tour not only are you changing cities every couple of weeks and have to find the grocery and CVS and all, but each theater’s layout is different. Your quick-change areas and dressing-room locations keep changing. When I hit my first two or so cities, I barely knew where I was going at all, and would walk offstage and ask anyone nearby where on earth I was supposed to go.
What’s been your most memorable experience with a Wicked fan?
That’s funny; I originally thought you meant my experience as a Wicked fan, and I was going to say the show’s opening night on Broadway. I got to be there and scream myself hoarse for Idina and Kristin, both of whom were old friends of mine. What a night! As far as with a Wicked fan, it would be impossible to narrow it down, but I can say they all stay in my heart, from the girl with the tattoo of the words “Defy Gravity” in my handwriting, to the strange items I’ve been asked to sign, and little girls looking at me confused because they didn’t recognize me without my wig and green face, to all the drawings that were sent to me.
I never really think about a role as dramatic or comedic. I just want to play it if it resonates, and Elphaba is very, very familiar to me. She is academic, funny, misunderstood, vulnerable and acerbic—characteristics of great comic roles, yes, but far more comprehensive when explored from a darker angle. Likewise, musically, the comic take on an Elphaba would live in a really simple place (Almira Gulch on the bike!), but Elphaba’s music in Wicked is well-rounded, so there is ample opportunity to express all of her sides without just singing some crazy one-note musical veneer.
Do you think Elphaba could have become a comedian?
Oh, yes. Elphaba is an outsider. Ninety percent of comedy involves observing and revealing the truth, and that is what she does.
If you didn’t play Elphaba, who else in the musical would you want to take a stab at?
I love Boq. Kind and conflicted.
What was your favorite song to sing?
I love “No Good Deed.” I think it’s a thrilling, expressive piece of music, and it does exactly what it is supposed to do in terms of storytelling. Everyone knows that terrifying, self-destructive brink, and without anyone or anything to pull her back, there is no going back for Elphaba after she’s gone there. I also absolutely love “For Good,” it is so powerfully forgiving and grateful. Playing Elphaba can be a very lonely enterprise, and I really valued the duet and the connection I felt with Kate Reinders when we sang it together.
In the beginning, it was daunting for me, I was so overwhelmed. I replaced Idina, so I just really thought it was safe to emulate what I’d seen. It was safe, and it was working—let’s not reinvent the wheel. But at some point, it just doesn’t work. It’s not authentic. It doesn’t land. And I remember [director] Joe Mantello asking me, “When are you going to make this your own?” That’s the best gift that any actress can bring to the role, which is to be exactly who they are. No one else can do it. I just drew on myself, and I brought my life onstage every night. Do I know what it’s like to be green or fly? No, but I have other things that I struggle with that I can bring to the table. I just made it as personal as possible. To me, that creates a very authentic and moving experience for an audience.
After having been in Wicked, does it change the way you view The Wizard of Oz?
You know what? I don’t think I’ve sat through the movie since then. I do associate myself with her when I see her image, like in a store or something. But I think they’re just so different! The film witch is depicted as this ugly and angry thing. But if you know Elphaba and have been in the show, it just doesn’t feel like the same person. I get that it’s supposed to be, but I don’t see it!
What would you do if you had Elphaba’s powers?
What would I do?… I would use it mostly for transportation purposes. I could be home really quickly to visit my family. You know how whenever you’re at the airport you just want to snap your fingers and be at your destination? So I would say transportation. And I’d manipulate people’s feelings, too, if there were people I wanted to do things for me.… But transportation would be the main thing. Then I’d get greedy with it, change people’s minds. [Laughs]
Where do you keep your Wicked memorabilia?
I have so much stuff, I probably could have had a Wicked room. On my wall, I have a really cool painting someone did of me, like a headshot of me and they made me look green. Most of the stuff is in my mom’s house in Portland [Oregon]. But a lot of it over the years has been donated for auction purposes. A lot of it has been used for a higher purpose.
What’s the best thing about performing in Wicked?
The best thing was singing Stephen Schwartz’s music every night. I still don’t get sick of it. And the reach that Wicked gave me, all the people…who are still in my fan base. And it still draws people in. They’re paying attention and they’re listening, and it gives me a platform to be a positive influence. It’s been an amazing spiderweb of a network. They’re incredibly loyal and educated fans. That’s a really amazing gift.
And the worst?
The worst part, ugh, that’s hard.… I can’t honestly say there was a worst part. I can’t. I only had benefits. I don’t have negative things to say about it. I guess the worst thing is missing that family, having somewhere to go six days a week. That would be the worst part. Missing it.
Do you use the Wicked shade of green in your daily life?
Not in my daily life. But I have painted a few people since I left the show. I had a palette. But I gave it away, to, like, a charity auction or something. You watch that done to your face every night, and it’s just basic makeup. There was one time in Toronto where I had to do it myself because our makeup artist wasn’t available at the time. So I know the technique. I did it for a benefit one time and for friends for Halloween.
Would you dress up as Elphaba for Halloween?
Oh, God no!
I think that every time I was asked to come back, I just felt like I still had stuff to learn. I was at a different point in my life every time I came back, so I had something different to offer, and new outlooks and portrayals of the story and the character. It’s honestly just a fulfilling role to play and I never got tired of it.
Do you have a favorite span of time that you played in?
Probably right in the beginning. I was in the original company, and that was a very new experience for me. And then also when I closed the L.A. company. Megan Hilty and I, who opened that company, came back to close it at the end. I think I felt [that] at that point, it was a complete maturation of me as a woman and my outlook on Elphaba.
Who is your favorite Glinda that you’ve performed with?
I have to say, they coincide with my two favorite eras. Performing with Kristin Chenoweth was just an amazing experience. She was so gracious with me. I was 25, and it was my first time performing on Broadway. And the Glinda I did it the longest with was Megan. She and I really developed a strong trust on- and offstage. So those two are my favorite. But I consider Megan my Glinda.
Is there any part of Elphaba that’s in you?
I relate to her in that I was made fun of and bullied a lot in school, so those scenes at the dance and when she’s been tricked into wearing the hat—those kind of things—I really connect, because I had those moments in my adolescence. I try to be like her in taking that leap and going against what everyone wants, to have the strength to go on her own path. I think that’s brave, and I think I’m like that—or at least, I try to be like that!
You released your debut album last year. Are there any Wicked songs that you like to perform in concert?
I recorded “I’m Not That Girl” on my album. I love it. It’s just a glimpse into Elphaba’s softer side, into her inner self. The version on my album is a very different version than the way it is in the show. But I always do that song. And a lot of time, depending on the venue and what kind of concert, I will do “Defying Gravity.”
But no flying, I assume.
The flying part I leave at home. [Laughs]
It’s a very tech-heavy show. Do you have any memorable tech glitches?
I do remember when I was a standby for Idina, this is the first onstage mishap that happened in my presence: Norbert Leo Butz [as Fiyero] would fly in on the rope, land on one knee and say, “Let the green girl go.” Usually after that, he’s supposed to stand up, but that particular time, I noticed he didn’t get up from the ground. It turned out that he had split his pants from front to back! I was laughing, and Kristin was laughing, and the audience was laughing. And my family was there, too!
So on the topic of Fiyero pants, who wore them best?
I’m going to say Derrick Williams. He just filled them out really nicely. And he’s on the taller side. He was a taller Fiyero, with a really masculine frame.
We share the desire to balance our vulnerability with our power, being honest and authentic but still being loved. We differ in that Elphaba will stand up for what she believes, no matter what. I’m not that strong.
What was the most valuable thing you learned from doing Wicked and creating a role?
We are never doing anyone any favors by withholding our gifts from the world. It’s scary to be fierce, but you can’t compromise that for fear of losing those around you.
For anyone who wants to play the role, what qualities make for a good Elphaba?
A good Elphaba would have the willingness to take risks. A good facialist. And scream “Fuck!” in your audition.
What’s your best Wicked fan gift?
A green bowling ball, and Margaret Hamilton’s real Wizard of Oz gloves.
If you had Elphaba’s powers, what would you do with them?
If I had Elphie’s powers I would cure my best friend—who was just diagnosed with cancer.
Maureen from Rent or Elphaba: Who would be the better wingwoman (if you were still single)?
Maureen definitely is the better wingwoman. Although she could steal the guy away.…
Who is Elphaba to you?
Elphaba is a little bit of every girl/woman I know who is struggling to find themselves, to harness their power and to believe in their unconventional beauty.