When Wicked returns to Tempe's Gammage, we'll have reason to celebrate. Playing Glinda is Katie Rose Clarke, who was so moving in the production of The Light in the Piazza that toured. If you missed that gorgeous production but managed to catch the show on PBS (filmed from its Broadway production after Kelli O'Hara left), you also got to see the talented Texas native playing the emotionally challenged Clara.
In her long reign as the Good Witch of the North in training, Clarke has made a wonderful impression on audiences and critics alike. She is able to act without batting an eyelash even when her heel broke off in her big "Popular" number, pausing to 'zap' her foot with her wand in the hope that a new shoe would appear. I had the opportunity to speak with Clarke about playing every tween girl's fantasy role in the runaway hit.
NC: How has this experience been, touring with Wicked?
Katie Rose Clarke: It's been amazing. I've learned so much and it's been life-changing for me in a lot of ways. Being in a show that's so wildly popular and so well-received is such a blessing, and I just feel really lucky. It's been a great experience.
NC: How would you contrast it with your experience with The Light in the Piazza?
KRC: It is different ... Piazza was a smaller company and a smaller scale show comparatively. Wicked is quite a spectacle, it's impressive technically. The sets and everything for Piazza were the same way in a different way, so it's been a completely different experience in great ways. I of course will always miss Piazza. It holds a very special place in my heart.
NC: Is it all fun and games "behind the curtain" at Wicked?
KRC: With a show that is so well known with roles that are so well known, it can be intimidating. It feels like there's a little bit of pressure living up to what the expectations are for a role like this. So in that way, it can be stressful, but it's still open for interpretation. There have been so many different witches at this point, so many actresses have been able to bring their own personalities and experiences to the role, in that way the pressure has been lifted. I think if the stakes weren't this high, the show wouldn't be this good, so it's also fun to meet that challenge. It's a demanding role physically and emotionally, so for me it's a lot of stress offstage to stay healthy and to be ready to perform every night. You work out, you eat healthy, you get as much rest as your body needs, and you have to try to forgive yourself when you don't.
NC: How have you put your own stamp on the role of Glinda?
KRC: I approached it as Glinda is a person who undergoes so much change and in my view of her, she comes from a place where she has to appear perfect and be perfect and be the center of attention. There's a pressure on Glinda to be a certain way and as she grows up and we track her journey throughout the show, she sees that there are certain parts of life and of the world that aren't perfect that shape her into becoming the woman that she is by the end of the show. I sort of just approached her as a young girl who grows up. To track that journey every night is pretty fun, and something that I can relate to and most women can.
NC: And you came straight from school into The Light in the Piazza, so that had to be quite a journey. What kind of reactions do you get from your fans at the stage door?
KRC: It's rewarding after a show to come outside and see that it was well-received and to get that encouragement from the people who you just sort of poured your heart out for for three hours. That's like the ultimate gratification, that never gets old! We're so fortunate to have that. I've had people who've gone through certain tragedies in their lives say that they haven't laughed that hard in months or even a year. They come to the theater and forget their problems and we can make them laugh and go to another world. That is truly rewarding and that makes it completely worth it.
Clarke admitted that performing Light in the Piazza for the cameras, knowing that it would be broadcast live made her a little nervous hoping that she wouldn't trip or fall down the stairs. "It's a scary thing, but it's also fantastic," she explained. She hasn't watched the entire show, fearing that she'll be too hard on herself.
As for Wicked, she hopes that girls watching it will appreciate the great friendship between Glinda and Elphaba (the so-called Wicked Witch of the West) and how it helps change the two women. She also agreed with me when I suggested that the show is popular with GLBT audiences because they appreciate Elphaba's struggle to be who she is and to be appreciated for her strengths and not allow herself to be shunned for being different.
The warm and charming Clarke ended the interview by thanking me, demonstrating again why she is such a successful and well-loved artist. "Thank you for knowing so much about the show and about me. It always makes the interview much better for us, so I appreciate that. Thank you!
I went online and saw some candid scenes of Ms. Clarke in Wicked and can conform that she is wonderful in the role and truly makes it her own and is not in Kristin Chenoweth's diminutive shadow. Knowing how well this mammoth show sells, you'll want to book your trip to Oz right away!
Wicked plays at ASU Gammage from July 1 to 26. For future tour dates, visit the musical's official site.
Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.