Katie Rose Clarke first stepped into Glinda's blue ball gown when she was 23. For two years, Clarke floated above the stage on the national tour of Wicked, before moving to Broadway in 2010. She's come and gone by bubble in short bursts ever since and returned in the beginning of December.
It's been almost six years since the last time Clarke picked up her magic wand at the Gershwin Theatre, in the summer of 2013. She's since gone on to play Hannah in Allegiance, Ellen in Miss Saigon, and Cassandra, the leading lady, in the out-of-town-tryout for Huey Lewis's new musical The Heart of Rock and Roll. She also became a mom to now 7-month-old Eleanor.
Clarke is kicking off her 2019 by once again rising to the rafters as Glinda, but her performance is far different now than it was 11 years ago. It's a "Wonderful" opportunity to further explore a role that's been very good to her, while getting to share it with a whole new audience.
Tell me about your history with Wicked through the years.
They hired me 11 years ago, the first time, and I've just popped in and out. Most of the time, it's been for these short stints where they needed someone who's familiar with it and only needed a few brush-up rehearsals. This one, I have to say, was very unexpected. I hadn't done Wicked since the summer of 2013, with Lindsay Mendez and Derek Klena, so I needed a little more than just a brush-up rehearsal. It just came at a really good time, and it's been fun to be back.
Did it all come flooding back to you?
I was really nervous. I think that because I was so nervous, I overprepared. I made sure my husband ran lines with me every night, and once the lines came back, everything came flooding back. And the more I ran through things in rehearsal, the more I would remember. All the ins and outs of different notes and direction I've gotten along the way have come back in little bursts as I keep doing it. Muscle memory is a very real thing.
Is playing Glinda now different from when you first played her back when you were…
Twenty-three? Yeah, of course. It's hard for me to really nail down what the differences are. Not to be a weird namedropper at all, but when Lea Salonga went back in to close Once on This Island, we had breakfast before a matinee and she asked me the same exact question. I told her I think that I'm just different, so I know that my Glinda is different.
There are things that I did as Glinda that didn't feel authentic anymore. It was like, "Oh, that's a holdover from when I was 23. Maybe that doesn't fit me anymore." I always strive to find the greatest arc for Glinda that I possibly can. She goes from being the most self-absorbed, beyond vapid person to being able to pull herself up to lead the people of Oz. There's so much in that growth.
You're working with an almost entirely new team now — Jessica Vosk as Elphaba, Nancy Opel as Madame Morrible, Kevin Chamberlin as the Wizard.
Nancy's incredible, and Kevin is an awesome guy to have in the theater. I was all fan-girly because he was the original Horton in Seussical. [laughs] And Jess and I had an immediate connection and chemistry. I loved her from the beginning. We think similarly and approach the show similarly.
Before you went back to Wicked, you did the Huey Lewis musical The Heart of Rock and Roll in San Diego? What's the status of that project?
I am allowed to say that I am continuing with it, but I don't know what the next steps are at this point. I want it to come here and I think they do, too. It is an awesome show. I am probably its biggest fan and advocate. It's light and fun and has a really heartwarming story. I went back to work five weeks postpartum to start The Heart of Rock and Roll in San Diego. I was away from home, away from my husband, and it could not have been a better situation. I really cannot gush about it enough.
Was it hard to make the decision to go back to work so soon after giving birth?
It was the most difficult decision to make. I had the most amazing support system, and that's really how I was able to do it. My husband came out with me for a couple of weeks, and my mom and mother-in-law rallied around to help. Even at the end…I had hired a nanny in San Diego and I lost her. I called my friend Abby on a whim and said, "I lost my nanny, she's supposed to start in two days. Do you want her job?" Sure enough, she was able to be there with me. It was hard, but also incredible. Women are amazing. Women can do anything.
I have things I would do differently now. I probably would have eased back into work rather than go into the rehearsal room full-time, but I'm really glad I did it. I think I'm a better mom because I work and love what I do, and I think I'm better at what I do because I'm a mom. I don't think they're mutually exclusive. I think you can do both.