02/10/2017

YS Exclusive: the stars of ‘Wicked’ talk about the musical’s role in empowering women

by  Pam Musni
Photo by Patrick Diokno
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I think I was in high school when everybody started getting Wicked fever. I always saw it as the edgier, snarkier version of The Wizard of Oz — a glamorized number that appealed to the rebels-without-a-cause and wannabe intellectuals. Being the closeted hipster I was back in the day, I avoided it like the plague and did so successfully during their first Philippine run.

Age, as you might say, has mellowed me out. Thanks to some musically (and theatrically) inclined friends, the musical has appeared and reappeared on my news feed, like some large neon sign beckoning me for a shot at redemption.

Pop culture, with all its self-aware allure, always seems to get it right when the real world doesn’t follow through. It’s an interesting thought in going through Wicked, and more so without the rose-colored glasses. After getting behind the edgy novelty, it’s not hard to see why this musical has endeared itself to many a generation throughout the years. You’ve got discussion of body issues, discrimination, family problems, and political discourse, all the while belting out number after catchy number. But more importantly, it talks about the strength of women friendship and empowerment; revolving around two characters that have long been the poster girls of a monochromatic view of good and evil.

With Wicked’s second run in Manila, we got to chat with two of the show’s stars — Carly Anderson, who plays Glinda the Good Witch, and Jacqueline Hughes, who plays Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West — about what makes Wicked pretty… well, wicked, all the while looking into the more nuanced characterizations of this reimagining, the relationship between Glinda and Elphaba, and an interesting look at the Fiyero character.

YOUNG STAR: How are you guys feeling about your opening show in Manila?

CARLY ANDERSON: Very excited! We came here a few months ago to do some press, and we met loads of fans, and they were all so excited. It was amazing to (meet) them all. So, yeah, we’re all so excited to see the audience reactions to the musical, and we’re really looking forward to it.

Can you tell us more about yourselves and the characters you play?


CARLY:
I play Glinda, and this is my first-ever time with this particular role and show. It’s a show I’ve been dreaming of being in for a long time, and I would’ve been very happy if I’ve just got a role just standing in the back or something… so to be playing Glinda is literally a dream come true. She’s the bubbly, popular girl at school. She meets this green girl (Elphaba), and it stops her in her tracks a little bit. They eventually become the best of friends.

JACQUELINE HUGHES: I’m Jacqueline, I play Elphaba in the show, and I’ve been with the Wicked family since 2011 now. So I’ve had quite a different journey from Carly. I started off as a swing… and gradually worked my way up… I understudy Madam Morrible, I understudy Elphaba, I’m a standby to Elphaba, and now I’m very fortunate to be playing the role. It’s a life-long dream of mine to have this opportunity, and I remember being onstage watching… Rachel Tucker, Kerry Ellis… playing this role, and looking up
to them.

Elphaba is a force to be reckoned with. She is the iconic green girl, green witch, and she is misunderstood. She’s full of passion and fire, and she’s determined. There’s no sort of middle ground with Elphaba, she’s very black or white (in judgment). However, she puts her trust in Glinda when they meet, and Glinda accepts her for who she is. I love being able to tell this story every night — it’s so important to me. It’s so relevant in this day and age.

Defying gravity: Jacqueline Hughes, Carly Anderson, and the rest of ‘Wicked’ cast are back in Manila to relive the musical’s magic.

Let’s talk more about the musical. Wicked actually turns the Wizard of Oz story on its head. For instance, in the original Oz, the characters of Glinda and Elphaba are very one-dimensional. Glinda is obviously good, and Elphaba is obviously bad. In this musical, why do you think it’s important they focus on deepening the characters?

CARLY: I think Gregory Maguire, who wrote the novel the musical was based on, was obviously inspired by the original Wizard of Oz and probably just wondered if there was another side to the story. “Why is Elphaba ‘evil’? Why did she become that way? Why does everybody think she is that way?” I think this show offers many amazing morals about how things aren’t always what they seem, or how you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

There are a lot of underlying themes — political and social oppression, things like that. But yeah, it’s a re-examination of good and evil, and we eventually find out why everybody calls this green witch evil… and understand that she isn’t actually evil. She always does good things, but they tend to have bad outcomes

 It’s also very interesting how they portray “wicked” as being “rebellious.” What are your comments on that?


JACQUELINE
: Yeah, I think it’s one of those words that have been thrown around. Especially for Elphaba. She’s different from everyone else. She stands up for what she thinks is right, nwhich everyone sees is wrong. It’s propaganda, and that’s especially relevant now. Like Carly said, ultimately all she’s trying to do is to do good, but it’s the propaganda that stops her. But she never succumbs to it. She’s purely fighting for what she believes in, and what she believes is right. But everything just stands in her way and she is ultimately “wicked…” She’s ultimately branded.

“The message hits home with a lot of women — being proud of who you are, it doesn’t matter what you look like, what size you are, what color your skin is, what you believe in.”

The musical focuses on a lot of relationships like Elphaba’s relationship with the Wizard of Oz, and the love triangle with Fiyero. Above all, they concentrate on the friendship between Glinda and Elphaba. Why do you think it’s this relationship that endures most of all?


JACQUELINE
: Friendship is something I hope everyone can relate to. And it’s a musical that’s led by two females — that often doesn’t happen in musical theater. It’s usually your male-female love story. So women feel empowered by it. These two women are strong characters, and they’re honest with each other. They see each other’s faults and try to help each other. That’s what friendship is. That’s something every audience member can relate to.

Are you more of an Elphaba, or more of a Glinda?

JACQUELINE: A bit of both. And I think that’s what makes them so appealing, because people do see themselves in them.

Everyone has qualities of self-doubt like Elphaba. “Do I look different? I don’t want to be different.” Everyone wants to fit into a mold. I’m also quite hot-headed, like Elphaba. And extremely passionate like Elphaba. And I hope I always try to do good. But she’s so tender, so heartwarming, and I’d like to think of myself the same way.

CARLY: I think I share qualities with both of the characters as well. Glinda is very ambitious, and I think in this industry you have to be, so it’s definitely a quality I share with her. On the other hand, Elphaba’s very passionate and breaks the mold, something that I always strive to do. Be different, be who you are, and don’t be afraid of that, either.

The wicked witch of the west: Jacqueline Hughes as Elphaba
The good witch: Carly Anderson as Glinda

Fiyero’s the one guy that kind of helps the two reexamine their relationship. How would you describe this character, and how important is he in the narrative of the two?

CARLY: He’s so important, actually, that he’s sort of the center of all of this. It’s he that makes Elphaba realize she’s beautiful — that beauty comes from within, not from the outside. It’s he that makes Glinda realize that she shouldn’t let her ambition get the better of her, and realize what’s actually true and real in life — that rather than shoes, handbags and pink things, he makes her realize that all of that stuff doesn’t matter. He makes her less materialistic, and more real.

JACQUELINE: He’s the catalyst for the ongoing story of the show. And for Elphaba, it’s a massive thing, ‘cause she’s never had anyone that’s really had any interest in her. She’s never been loved by her father, and all she’s here for is her sister. So the fact that Glinda has taken interest in her and helps her as a friend — and with Fiyero, this is different. She’s never felt those feelings before. So it’s all very new and all very organic.


For the young women who have never seen
Wicked before, why do you think this is such an essential musical for them in particular?


JACQUELINE:
The message hits home with a lot of women — being proud of who you are, it doesn’t matter what you look like, what size you are, what color your skin is, what you believe in. There’s so much propaganda, so much social media talking about the way you should look, what you should eat. But actually, if you’re just proud to be you, that’s okay. Don’t be scared of being you, and voicing what you believe in. It’s so encouraging, so empowering for women.

CARLY: It’s a very “coming of age” story, that’s why it’s so popular with teenagers. The two start off the beginning of their journey as young, naïve girls. But at the end of the show, they’re really powerful women, and it’s amazing. It’s very “girl power.”

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