When my family and I traveled to New York City last fall, I knew I wanted to take my kids to a Broadway show.
What would be a great first Broadway experience for my family?
There was no question: Wicked, the long-running Broadway musical featuring the origin stories of Glinda and Elphaba, the pair who went on to infamy in a little movie called The Wizard of Oz.
The story of Wicked looks at what happened in the Land of Oz — but from a different angle. What if the woman born with emerald-green skin was simply misunderstood?
Wicked turned out to be a highlight of our trip to New York City. We were all blown away by the sets, the unexpected show twists, and the unbelievable performances.
So I jumped at the chance to sit down and chat recently with Jennifer DiNoia, the current standby for Elphaba on Broadway. She has played Elphaba thousands of times in productions around the world since becoming involved with the show 16 years ago and knows the complicated character intimately.
MK: You’ve been playing Elphaba regularly — with a few breaks here and there — since 2007. What do you love so much about this musical, and Elphaba, that you’ve enjoyed playing her for so many years of your career?
Jennifer: I've essentially grown up doing this show. Even after all this time, I still have moments in the show when I realize what something means, or what it means to me right now. Elphaba has helped me grow so much as a person and as an actor. She's literally helped me be a stronger person outside of the show — I ask myself 'what would Elphaba do in this situation?' I know she would make a strong decision that’s powerful and not necessarily easy. She is just a part of my soul at this point.
MK: One of the things that surprised me about the show was how relevant it felt — the show was written in the early 2000s, but the issues and problems it explores are all still so relevant today, from politics to female empowerment.
Jennifer: So many things have happened in our world, but how people are treated has always been an issue — throughout time. It's empowering to see a human like Elphaba, who is dealt a very different set of cards, staying true to what she believes, and staying strong. She has to make sacrifices but she remains a person true to herself.
Photo by Joan Marcus
MK: It's been a tough couple of years on Broadway, with the shutdown due to COVID. What was that time like for you? Were there any blessings in disguise at being so thrown out of your normal life and routine?
Jennifer: It was very scary being in New York especially, it was so intense here and we got hit very, very hard. But in the same breath, I was so happy to have that extra time with my daughter, Joules. Every day getting to be with her and put her to bed. It helped too that everyone was in the same boat and was having the same experience — it felt weirdly comforting. All parents, all humans, felt the same way — wondering 'what's going to happen next?' It felt isolating, but at the same time like we were all in it together.
MK: What was that first night like back on Broadway after the shutdown ended?
Jennifer: My heart just swelled a little bit. Being on Broadway, in general, is such an incredible gift that I pinch myself still even being in the show 16-plus years. It felt bigger than us just getting to be back at work though. The fact that live music and live theatre shut down first when COVID hit, and then was one of the last things to come back — it was just a magical feeling to not only get our jobs back but also to be able to give theater back to the thousands of people coming to see Broadway shows. When our curtain first came up it was overwhelming, in the most wonderful way.
See the audience's reaction to Glinda's appearance at opening night of Wicked:
MK: You mentioned your daughter. Can you tell us about her? What's it like raising a child in New York City?
Jennifer: Joules is six and in first grade. I have no other experience raising a kid except here, but I think being a parent is a challenge no matter where you are or what your circumstances. It’s a little different with space — we live in a two-bedroom apartment so we have more space than some, but we spend a lot of time at playgrounds so she can get out the energy. It's harder in the winter because there's not a lot of outside time. She’s in first grade and this is her first year of school being full-time with no virtual learning, so that's been really great. I've watched her blossom.
MK: Is she going to be a performer like her mama, or go down a different path?
Jennifer: I think she could be if she wanted to be! She’s in ballet and gymnastics and she has times when she loves to put on shows, anything from dance to science or magic. She is my kid so I toot her horn all the way, but I think she’s quite magnetic and very entertaining. I’ll support her in whatever she wants to be.
Jennifer and her daughter, Joules:
MK: I have one last question... one I'm sure everyone who has ever seen Wicked wonders. Does the green ever really come off?
Jennifer: It definitely takes a few showers! When you play Elphaba, you wear a green halo of makeup as a badge of honor. They paint behind our ears, inside our ears, all the way up high on your hairline, plus your hands ... the green is everywhere. I even have a separate set of pillowcases I use when I'm on because of any leftover green stains.