The witches of Wicked have flown into Taranaki and are set to turn the town green in the New Plymouth Operatic Society season of Wicked the Musical which starts next week. Stratford Press editor Ilona Hanne caught up with the actresses playing the parts of Elphaba and Glinda (Catherine Hay and Rebekah Head) to ask them a few questions about their characters, themselves, and just what it is like to play these iconic roles.
Catherine Hay plays Elphaba Thropp, a green-skinned and talented young witch who wants nothing more than to meet the Wizard. This week she answers questions on which other theatre roles is she green with envy over, what it's like being green, her favourite moments in the show and just how feminist a musical is Wicked.
The show is packed full of memorable moments, what is your favourite moment from the show?
I think the scene leading up to the song For Good. The song itself is a duet between Elphaba and Glinda and forms a kind of farewell between them. The whole scene is about the friendship between the two of them and that story is so very powerful. There's strong emotional moments throughout the show but that moment hits me the hardest, it's about saying goodbye to your best friend and I think that is something we can all relate to and empathise with.
If there's one thing everyone knows about Elphaba before they see the show, it's the fact she is green. What has it been like going green as you get into character?
It's quite amazing actually, as soon as that makeup goes on people look differently at me and I start to feel different as a result. It really makes me get an understanding of what it would have been like for Elphaba, always being stared at and treated differently just because of the colour of her skin. We were filming some promos for the show around Taranaki and people were walking past and just absolutely staring at me. I felt really exposed and vulnerable and it gave me an insight into just how isolating it can feel. As an adult, it was a really new experience for me and quite humbling in a way. It was really good for my character development and every time that makeup goes on it helps me step fully into Elphaba's skin.
You've said this role is one you have dreamed of for a long time, since you first heard the soundtrack, are there any other roles you dream of being cast in?
Yes, I would love to play the role of Cathy in the musical The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown. It's a very different style show which explores a relationship between two people, Cathy and James. The way it's done (with James' story told in chronological order and Cathy's in reverse chronological order and the two of them only actually interacting in one song as their timelines intersect) fascinates me. It's a role I would really love to dig my teeth into and I would enjoy working on my character development of Cathy and figuring out her motivation. The story and the music are both beautiful so I think it would be an amazing show to be involved in.
Playwright Eve Ensler was brought in to help develop the part of Elphaba before the show first hit Broadway. She has since said Wicked is a "surprisingly feminist musical". Do you agree?
Yes. I know when they worked on rewriting parts of it before Broadway a focus was to bring out all sides of Elphaba. So her passion and fierceness but also her heart and humanity. To me, that's quite a feminist approach, celebrating all parts of what makes this woman the person she becomes. The story is about her finding her place in the world and not being apologetic about who she is -she doesn't sit back quietly. The storyline is about finding your way and friendship rather than looking for a traditional happy ending in the form of a love story which isn't so common when it comes to female roles in big musicals or shows.
Rebekah Head plays G(a)linda, the Good Witch of Wizard of Oz fame. It's a role Rebekah has played twice before and she says she's thrilled to be reprising the role for Taranaki audiences.
From the opening moments of this show, it feels like there is plenty of action all the way through, do you have a favourite moment or scene in the show?
There are so many good moments in the show. I agree with Catherine that the part before For Good is a really important moment, it is so rare in musicals to have a storyline that is not focused on a love interest but rather empowers women the way Wicked does. Another moment I love in the show would have to the first scene with Chistery, that's a really important part of the show.
Glinda doesn't always travel on foot - she gets to fly in this show - what's flying on stage like?
It's really cool. I actually do it at the very start of the show which makes it a little bit lonely in a way. Everyone else is together on stage and I am to one side before my entry, basically strapped in to the bubble and watching. From a technical perspective there's a lot going on at the same time - it's a case of here you are okay, get your costume and makeup on, now sing as high as you can and do it while you are suspended four metres in the air.
You say this is a show you have always loved and wanted to be involved with and, of course, have now played this particular role three times around New Zealand. Is there any other role you are desperate to be cast in if the show was being put on somewhere in New Zealand?
Absolutely yes. I would love to play Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors. I think partly because I am also a puppeteer (Rebekah was a resident puppeteer at Auckland's Whoa! Studios and is one half of the talented creative duo behind Tusk Puppets) so the show naturally appeals to me but also because it is such a great story with some brilliant music in it.
What is your take on playwright Eve Ensler's comment that Wicked is a "surprisingly feminist musical". Do you agree?
Yes. It is quite rare for a big musical production to feature two strong female leads so that alone certainly makes it an important musical for women from the perspective of finding roles that truly represent all sides of what being a woman means and giving us more to do on stage than just fall in love. For me, it's also the fact the storyline is focused on these two amazing women who are competing with each other and how they actually would be better to support and uplift each other, that's a message I think every woman should take home from watching this.
What: New Plymouth Operatic Society presents Wicked the Musical
When: June 17-July 3. New shows added for Tuesday, June 22 and Tuesday, June 29.
Where: TSB Showplace, New Plymouth
Tickets: Available from Ticketek
Be in to win a double pass to see Wicked the Musical at the TSB Showplace on Wednesday, June 23. To be in to win, simply email email@example.com with your name, contact phone number and put Wicked in the subject line and answer the following question:
What is Catherine's favourite song for Elphaba in the show?
Competition closes at noon, Wednesday, June 16 and the winner will be contacted that day.