Age & Hometown: 37; Maarn, Netherlands
Current Role: Making her Broadway debut as the gravity-defying sorceress Elphaba in the blockbuster musical Wicked.
Wicked’s Powerful Spell: Dutch stage star Willemijn Verkaik (pronounced “Villa-main Ver-kike") has played Elphaba in Wicked more than 1,000 times, in three different languages. “It’s a spell like magic,” she says of the role. “Once you have been struck by it, it’s in your heart and it will never leave you.” Verkaik originated the green witch in the 2007 German production, went on to lead a Dutch-language production in 2011, and now makes her Broadway debut, a feat she calls “the icing on the cake.” Despite her vast experience as Elphaba, Verkaik insists the role remains inspiring and surprising. “It keeps being a challenge for me, and of course now to play it on Broadway in English—in the original language—is another challenge, another depth to the role. I think, even if I play the role in 10 years, I’ll still find new stuff.”
The Magic of YouTube: Even before her official debut, Verkaik made a huge impression on Broadway fans, thanks to viral YouTube videos. “That is surreal, especially in the beginning,” she says of the online phenomenon. “All of a sudden the whole world saw me rehearsing ‘No Good Deed,’ and I got so much response. People came from around the world to see the show in Germany because of that little thing on YouTube. I’m really honored.” In the future, YouTube followers may find Verkaik showcasing original tunes. “I’m writing songs, so I’m hoping that someday there will be my own album with my own music,” she says. “For me, if I don’t know how to express it with words, I do it with music.” The powerful vocalist got her start singing jazz and performing with bands, but an ensemble role in a musical turned everything around: “All of a sudden I was in that world, and I never want to leave it.”
A Love of Greenery: As Verkaik settles into apartment living near the Gershwin Theatre, she marvels, “New York is a very busy place. Everyone here is so ambitious and has so much energy. We live in Holland in a little village near the forests, so, for me, after a show to return to the quietness has always been very great. That is something I have to get used to here.” Having grown up in a small village, Verkaik settled in another rural setting with her saxophone player husband, Bart. (The two met studying at the conservatory in Holland.) When not performing, Verkaik takes advantage of the country terrain, so Central Park may become her new favorite spot. “I love to walk in the forest and take my bike. I love to watch the little birdies. I’m a green person.” Agreed.