On February 1, sunny Sacramento native Teal Wicks made her Broadway debut belting out some of the Great White Way's biggest notes as Wicked’s latest Elphaba. Wicks, who has played the green girl in both the Los Angeles and San Francisco companies of the hit musical, had already won the hearts of Wicked lovers across the country, including her own loyal (and playfully named!) fan base who helped her win the title "Wicked Personality of the Year 2010" on a fan site for the show. Broadway.com caught up with this newly minted Rialto star after a recent rehearsal to chat about her early inspirations, her Wicked fame and how she got her colorful name.
You've moved up in Wicked from standby in L.A. to starring in the San Francisco company and now to your Broadway debut. What's it been like to make the role of Elphaba your own?
Being a standby was a great way to ease into the role. When I took over, it was interesting to be able to start from scratch and feel like I was really stretching my creative muscles. It was such a validation as a performer to get the part, because some phenomenal people have done it, people who have so many amazing credits on their resume. I thought, "Wow, I guess maybe I'm actually good enough to do this."
Are we talking about Idina Menzel here?
To be in her role, just…wow! When I discovered Rent, I thought “Oh my god, Idina is amazing.” And then Wild Party came along and I was like, "OH MY GOD!” I loved her when—I don’t want to say when I was growing up, because it’s not like we’re that far apart in age—but she was a success when I wasn’t doing anything, and I just thought she was incredible.
Were you a Rent fanatic?
Oh, yeah. That’s my generation’s musical; that was our thing. It was the first real rock musical I got into. When it came through Sacramento, I think I saw it three times back to back. I know that's nothing compared to real Rent-heads, but I lived in Sacramento! I did what I could.
Do you have any other theater role models?
I love love love Audra McDonald. The first Broadway show I ever saw was Ragtime, and I think it was her last performance. Brian Stokes Mitchell came out and said “This is a very special night,” and at the time I was like “Oh, neat,” but looking back, I’m like, “Damn, that’s actually a really big deal.”
What do you love most about playing Elphaba?
I love how committed she is to what she believes in, and that she always fights to do more. I like underdog characters, and I love the journey she has with Galinda, because it's such a real journey that people have in relationships. You never know who will affect you or how strongly, and it's fun to have that surprise—that these two girls become great friends and really love each other.
You have a great Broadway Fiyero, Kyle Dean Massey. How’s the chemistry there?
He’s so dreamy. He’s super sweet and so easy to work with; a very cool, easygoing guy. And he’s really good to look at, so that just makes it easier.
Wicked fans are notoriously adoring of their Elphabas; have you found that to be true?
Wow, yes. There’s this really great group that started in San Francisco and they named themselves “Twickies.” I should hire them as my PR agents, because I’m not great at putting myself out there and tooting my own horn, but they are very proactive in keeping people informed of what I’m doing. I have to give them a shout-out because they’re really awesome. They have buttons and T-shirts and mugs. It’s wild.
Did you ever expect that sort of recognition?
I still feel kind of removed from it, in a way. It’s interesting when you face fans because what they fall in love with first is the character, and of course there is a distinction between the person you are on and off stage. Most people understand that what they see on stage is different than who you are in real life, but some people don’t get that. It’s like the soap opera fanatics who think that their favorite soap stars are actually the characters they play.
Any particularly memorable fan encounters?
Someone made me a candle that was a teal-colored duck! Teal ducks are the most prevalent type of duck in North America; my grandfather really loved ducks, and that’s where my name came from. This girl knew that story and she made a duck candle that was teal. That one was cute.
You took some time off from Wicked before starting Broadway. Did you need a break?
I love this role, but when I’m doing it I can’t do much else; I can’t have a full, active day. Also I live with my boyfriend here, and after almost two years doing the show in California I was anxious to get back to New York. So I came back east and did some smaller projects. Right before starting Wicked on Broadway I went up to A.R.T. in Cambridge to do The Blue Flower, which is a kind of Dada musical.
Dada musical? That’s a phrase I’ve never heard before.
It’s difficult to describe! I’ve always been fascinated with avant garde and Dada work, largely because I feel like you can never fully understand it. The piece takes place mostly in Berlin and Paris, spanning from World War I to the beginning of World War II, and it’s a collage of video projections and this beautiful music that’s kind of Kurt Weill meets American country western. I had to do it. Stephen [Schwartz] was a producer and he knew me from Wicked, and I had also worked with Diane Paulus, the artistic director of A.R.T., on a musical she and her husband wrote set in the world of professional wrestling.
Yep. It was loosely based on the opera Turandot. We had a wrestling ring as our stage and took these famous arias and made them into rock songs. I wore a wrestling unitard and mask and these really great wrestling boots. I was playing the villain, and because it was a rock opera I tortured someone with an electric guitar. It was fun. I wanted my costume so badly, but they didn’t let me take it. Oh, well!
I see you also did an unusual show at last year's New York Musical Theater Festival.
That was fun. It was called Most Likely to Die, and it was a slasher musical, kind of like Scream. It took place at a 10-year high school reunion, and it had great people, big belting songs and really hilarious, spectacular deaths in the script.
Did you have a spectacular death?
No, I was the character who didn’t die in the end. Every actor’s dream is to have some great, fantastic death scene, and I didn’t have that. Someday I’ll have a show with my dream death scene. Not that I actually know what it would be. I’m not that morbid!
See Teal Wicks in Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre.