In 2004, Jennafer Newberry’s parents took her to see the original cast of “Wicked” on Broadway. Like so many theatre kids of that time, Newberry was enthralled by the musical and told her parents that one day she would play Glinda the Good Witch. Fast forward almost 20 years later and Newberry is fulfilling her childhood dreams. Glinda’s bedazzled wand has now been passed along to Newberry, who stars as the Good Witch in “Wicked North American Tour,” playing at The Kennedy Center through January 22.
We spoke with Newberry about her experience playing the “Popular” character, the show’s longevity and the secrets of life on the road.
District Fray: You mentioned that you felt connected to Glinda the first time you saw “Wicked” as a child. In what ways do you connect with her?
Jennafer Newberry: I love her so much. The thing that I connect deeply with is she feels things in highs and lows. When she’s happy, she is so excited. But when she’s sad, it’s like, “Oh my gosh, the world is ending; nothing will ever be okay.” She can flip on a dime. I think it comes from this depth within her that she is willing to feel emotions. She doesn’t suppress, she just goes along for the ride.
Elphaba and Glinda’s friendship is central to the play. Did you have to audition with Lissa deGuzman who plays Elphaba?
I’m just going to say the casting directors are really good at pairing people because we never auditioned together. The first day we met was when she got to Costa Mesa [California], which is where we did our rehearsals. We had texted a little bit before that. Luckily, we get along super well, and we are great friends off-stage and on. So, that lends itself to our chemistry on stage. We trust each other and we’re willing to dive in and go on the journey together — even if it can be unpredictable.
You were the understudy for Glinda on the last tour of “Wicked” as well. How many tour stops have you made for this round and in total?
I’m close to I think 31 and 32, but for this run as Glinda full-time, 10 or 11.
Have you visited D.C. before?
I have been to D.C. before. But the biggest connection I have is that my husband is actually from Alexandria, Virginia. We have some family and few friends there. We love Georgetown. One of our favorite restaurants to visit is Founding Farmers and we love Ebenezers Coffeehouse near Capitol Hill.
Is your husband on tour with you?
Yes, I get to travel with my husband and my dog! We are a traveling circus. Our company, which is 65 to 75 people total, has about 21 or 22 dogs on tour with us. There are so many. It’s incredible. When most of the company travels to the next city, they fly, but there’s a good chunk of us with dogs that drive.
Where do the dogs go during rehearsal?
In the warmer months, we get them all together. And sometimes we’ll live in the same building. So, we’ll go to an open area and let them play or we’ll have people over and let them play. The dogs all get along really well.
OK, as someone who has seen the show multiple times, I must ask, what are the mechanisms behind descending from the bubble when Glinda is first introduced to the audience?
The first time I rode it was in regular lighting on the stage so I could see the entire audience, and that was a little bit scarier. During the show, I’m up there for a few minutes before the show starts and then when it starts, I come down. But it’s so dark, and I have spotlights on me, so I can only see the cast below me and some of the audience. I’m about 30 feet up in the air, and I trust our tech — they’re always watching out for us; they won’t let us do anything that’s unsafe.
As “Wicked” is close to hitting its 20-year anniversary, why do you believe the production still captivates people?
I think the show in and of itself is just a timeless tale. You know, it’s the age-old question of what is good? And what is wicked? And what does that look like on the surface and deeper? It is a story about friendship between these two characters. But it also just dives into deeper themes of love and acceptance and judging people by the way that they look. It’s such a special story and we’re just so excited to bring it to D.C.
“Wicked” runs through January 22. Learn more about the show and get tickets here.
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