By Kristi Casey Sanders
Katie Rose Clarke doesn’t need any help identifying with her Wicked character Glinda, the “good” witch. “She’s becoming a woman and discovering what’s important in life; I relate on that level,” Clarke says.
Encore Atlanta: How long have you been in New York?
Katie Rose Clarke: About three years. I graduated from [Texas’] Sam Houston State University and moved there immediately after school, but I’ve been on tour for most of that time.
How would you describe Wicked to someone who knows nothing about it?
It’s a different take on the familiar characters from the Wizard of Oz story, the story of them before [the movie], so it should be different and unexpected. It’s not necessarily what you see in the movie. I play Glinda from the time she’s a young schoolgirl first moving to college to a young woman, and show how she becomes the Glinda the Good you see in the movie.
I would say it’s the story of the witches of Oz before Dorothy comes in. In a deeper way, it looks at the relationship between the two women and investigates how we define good and evil, and how that’s perceived.
What’s the biggest challenge, playing Glinda?
I have to say, it’s a challenging role in general. The endurance required vocally, physically and emotionally [from the two witches] — it’s a challenge in a great way. In one number, you’re singing soprano from coloratura to a high C, and the next you’re belting in mid-range. I just try to rest when I can, use my voice less. I used to talk on the phone a lot more than I do now. You’ve got to keep yourself healthy.
Do you enjoy being on tour?
It’s a great way to see the country. I love touring in general. I love the West Coast, Seattle and Portland. On this tour, we went to Charlotte, which was really beautiful. Every city has its own characteristics that you fall in love with.
Have you been to Atlanta yet?
No. The last tour I was on didn’t get there. I’m looking forward to it.
What are your favorite Wicked moments?
Pretty much every moment I share the stage with Carmen [Cusak, who plays Elphaba, the “wicked” witch]. In particular, there’s a moment in Act I when she comes to this school dance and I’ve given her this ridiculous hat to wear. It’s the moment where we become friends, and it’s magical.
What makes it magical?
In the show, it’s two women who wouldn’t normally become friends (if one would judge a book by the cover). But they get to know each other and become the best of friends. Carmen is very dear and amazingly talented and, from day one, I could tell we were going to be friends. We just gelled. I love Carmen like a sister, and I think that’s the uniqueness of this show. It really highlights an important relationship between two women, a strong and dynamic relationship.
Do you have a favorite song you sing?
I don’t really have a favorite. “Popular” is fun, and I’m pretty much out of breath the whole time.
What’s your favorite moment to watch from the wings?
The best moment for me to rest and watch is [Elphaba’s] “No Good Deed.” It’s her perfect 11 o’clock moment at the end of Act II, and it is powerful and exciting. I watch it from offstage right, before I go into the next scene. It really fuels me to finish the show and get into the next scene. It’s exciting, like a rock number.
What do your audiences seem to enjoy most?
They always tell Carmen and I that they love “Popular,” how we play off each other and “For Good” at the end. The moments the witches get together on stage are the most powerful and exciting in general, but it’s an affecting, deep number, how we wrap up the whole show.
What’s the response you get from the stage door fans after the show?
It varies. They’ve just experiences a big, magical piece of live theater. They’re always lovely and want an autograph from the cast. That’s fun for us, too, no matter how tired we are. It’s energizing to go out after the show and see people really jazzed about it.
What do you love most about Glinda?
She has to grow up. You really get to play with the idea of someone who [goes] from not understanding what matters and life to having the most important people in her life taken away from her. That makes her grow up and understand what’s truly important. She’s so strong because of her experience, and she is a public figure who has to negotiate her feelings in the public eye. It’s an exciting journey to portray.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you have for the young woman you were three years ago, or any young woman about to embark on a career in the theater?
You’ve got to stay grounded no matter what. You have to find those anchors, whether it’s your family or your close group of friends. Remember what’s truly important, because at the end of the day, that’s all you have. It’s difficult; it’s a difficult lifestyle, but it’s very exciting. You’re on the road all the time, so to have your family to call at any time of day or night — it’s been a lifesaver.
Wicked plays The Fabulous Fox Theatre Oct. 5-Nov. 2.