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Witchy Woman

Former Saturday Night Live star Ana Gasteyer flies into Wicked as the new Elphaba.

Ana Gasteyer in Wicked
(© Joan Marcus)
Since leaving the cast of Saturday Night Live at the end of the 2001-2002 season, Ana Gasteyer has proved to be one of the theater's most versatile performers, handling the music of Galt MacDermot, Jule Styne, and Kurt Weill and the words of David Lindsay-Abaire and Paul Weitz with equal aplomb. But her greatest triumph has been as Elphaba, the future Wicked Witch of the West, in the Chicago sit-down production of Wicked. (For her performance, she earned a Joseph Jefferson Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical.)

Last week, Gasteyer flew into the Broadway production of Wicked in the same role for a 13-week run opposite her Chicago co-star Kate Reinders as Glinda. I recently spoke to this fabulously funny lady and killer singer about the part, her family, and her future plans.


THEATERMANIA: What is it that attracted you to playing Elphaba in the first place?

ANA GASTEYER: Honestly, it's a part that I'm very right for. I'm a lot like her. I'm rebellious in the same way, and I can be indignant in the way that she is. There's a power to her and an inquisitiveness that's very accessible to me. She's also funny, although I don't think that's always the way people see her. The way that Kate and I have approached Wicked is that the logic behind our characters' relationship is very much what's behind my friendships with many women: that is, intellect and humor. I think both Glinda and Elphaba are funny women in different ways, but when they find that in each other, they find a place of true connection. Joe Mantello, our director, used to talk about the power each of them has: Elphaba has originality and insight and uncanny abilities to see what's not right in the world, and Glinda is an incredible marketer. "Popular" is a fluffy song to most people, but the truth is that Glinda's saying there's a great power in your ability to reach out to people and popularize an idea.

TM: Was it a factor in your doing the show on Broadway that Kate would be doing it as well?

AG: I would have done it anyway, but Kate and I have phenomenal chemistry together. It's not the kind of thing that you can identify beforehand; it just happens. I think she's a really intelligent actress and an incredibly accomplished singer, plus we approach things from the same place artistically.

TM: Was it tricky to get back into Elphaba after such a long break?

AG: You know what, it came back incredibly quickly. I expected it to be harder. Rondi Reed, who was my Madame Morrible in Chicago, told me: "The first two days back, you feel like you're in outer space. The third day, you feel shaky. And by the fourth, you feel like you never left." But it's kind of funny; I do feel like I left, because I went and did Threepenny. It was great to do that show because it liberated me vocally. I feel that I sing differently now than I did in Chicago.

TM: Is your pre-show routine different with Wicked than it was with Threepenny?

AG: I didn't have to be as cautious with Threepenny because I wasn't on stage the whole time. Of course, that show was almost three hours long. I don't know why I can't pick something that's an hour and a half! When I saw The Drowsy Chaperone [which is only 90 minutes long], I was like, "I hate you people!" Honestly, the biggest trick in getting back to Elphaba was remembering when to eat and what to eat, how late you can sleep before you go onstage, and whether or not you can nap in between shows. I'd kind of forgotten all of that stuff. Having enough energy is a huge factor for me. If I eat at 5:30pm, I'm out by the end of the first act, but if I eat at 6pm, I'm fine. In fact, I have to make sure I eat constantly throughout the day to fire up for a show, and I never eat anything too big or too heavy. It's like being an athlete.

Ana Gasteyer and Jim Dale
in The Threepenny Opera
(© Joan Marcus)
TM: Did you get any advice from any other actress who has played Elphaba on how to handle the role?

AG: When I was first starting in Chicago, Idina Menzel sent me a very encouraging email about her tricks and techniques. Basically, what I remember her saying is, "Even if you have a cold, you have to do this." And I remember thinking, "That's impossible. You can't do this show with a sinus infection." But you do it; you sing through the cold and the bronchitis. It's scary when you're sick and you know you have to sing eight numbers, but you get through that first song and you just renegotiate your brain around it.

TM: Will you be taking your 4-year-old daughter Frances to see you in the show?

AG: Actually, she saw it in Chicago. She yelled at everyone for being mean to me backstage. She watches Harry Potter, so she doesn't scare too easily, but she doesn't like the monkeys [in Wicked]. When we're backstage, she points to them and says, "I don't like that." But she's definitely coming again to see me on Broadway.

TM: I'm sure you have plenty of young girls waiting for you at the stage door. Do they know your work other than Elphaba?

AG: Some of them know me from the movie Mean Girls. Others know me from Saturday Night Live reruns, depending on their age. And the Broadway kids know me from Threepenny, which makes me happy because my goal when I left SNL was to move toward a career on Broadway.

TM: What's the best fan reaction you've received?

AG: I was coming back from a concert in Germany when this German flight attendant recognized me and said: "I saw you in Wicked in Chicago, I saw you in Threepenny Opera, and I understand you will be the Wicked Witch on Broadway." My husband Charlie asked him if he got television in Germany, and he had no idea what he was talking about. That made me realize I had reached a new level, that I have fans who know me completely from the stage. I can't tell you how much that means to me.

TM: Is Wicked a show that you'd be interested in going in and out of for the next few years?

AG: I don't know. There's definitely nothing like it on Broadway. It's an extraordinary part for a high female belter, which I am. But I go through phases. After Chicago, I said, "I'm done." I thought I might go into High Fidelity. That seemed really appealing: Do one number and go home! And I'm dying to originate a new role. But what I like about doing Elphaba is that everybody thinks I'm in my freaking 50s because all I did was play old ladies on SNL. Now, when they meet me in person, they go, "Wow, you're young!"

TM: Do you only want to stick to musicals now?

AG: No. The thing I love about the theater is that it's far less restrictive than film and television. In the last few years, I've played Aunt Debra in Kimberly Akimbo -- a homeless lesbian in her 30s -- Fanny Brice, Mrs. Peachum, and Elphaba. They're all very different kinds of parts. The hard thing about a musical is, you have to find one that's about real storytelling. I come to any show first as an actress.

TM: Are you going to have any time during this run to do your wonderful cabaret act, Let It Rip?

AG: No, but I may do it when I'm done with Wicked. I'd love to make a recording of it at some point. But I need to think about cooking up something new sometime soon.

BSL: That's a big undertaking.

AG: Everything is.

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