The story of Wicked flies into Centre in the Square August 29. Dorothy of Kansas fans, take notice. Wicked spins the timeless classic up on its head and inside out again, exposing the truth behind where that fateful house fell, and who it fell on.
What makes Wicked simply the story that can’t be missed is its ingenious look at the witches who comprise Oz long before the munchkins were thankful for Dorothy’s arrival. The story re-examines the childhood of the Wicked Witch of the West (Elphaba), her sister, The Wicked Witch of the East (Nessarose), and Glinda, The Witch of the North, adding in a host of new characters to bring the much-loved fable to life.
The energy behind Wicked isn’t restricted to audiences; cast members of the show share the same excitement. Earlier in the week, VR spoke with Wicked’s Catherine Charlebois (Nessarose) regarding what makes the show so special for audiences alike.
“I think Wicked is just a fantastic show for everybody,” an enthusiastic Charlebois tells us. “It has unbelievable music. It has fabulous characters. There are beautiful costumes, action and adventure and a love story. There’s something for everybody to get excited about.”
Confessing that Wicked was the first show she watched on Broadway, Charlebois remembers being hooked from the first note. “My parents looked at me and said, ‘You want to do that, don’t you!’” she recalls fondly. “It was pretty crazy when Wicked became the first show I had done at the college, and it was great to be a part of the ensemble. Now I’m part of the three companies putting on the production! This has been my journey, and playing the role of Nessarose has been fantastic.”
Nessarose would better recognized by fans of the Wizard of Oz as the Wicked Witch of the East; or alternatively known as the “Witch that a House fell on.” In the production of Wicked, Nessarose is portrayed as the younger sister of Elphaba (The Wicked Witch of the West), and is born disabled, thus keeping her restricted in a wheelchair. Much of the plot revolves around Nessarose and her interactions with Elephaba.
“A lot of Elphaba’s decisions in the story are based around her sister,” Charlebois reveals. “She really feels like she’s Nessa’s protector. It doesn’t always go the way she wants it to go, and…” she adds, laughing, “it’s not always in her best interest to help her sister out!”
Charlebois is keen to the sibling relationship, having an older sister and a younger brother. “I’m very close to them,” she tells me. “I think Elphaba and Nessarose’s relationship is far more complicated,” Charlebois laughs again, “but I get what’s going on with them.”
Developing a character from the perspective of the chair would seem daunting to any seasoned actor, but Charlebois says she has found the challenge incredibly rewarding. “As an actor, you use your whole body to portray something,” she tells us. “From the waist down there can be no movement! It’s been fun, and I’ve done a lot of research about it. It has been very challenging to sing properly and to use the right techniques.” She also admits that she has better sense of people who are confined to wheelchairs. “Now when I see people in a chair, I feel for them so much more. I found so many more aches and pains in my shoulders and in my arms.”
The story of Wicked has many wondering how it truly fits in with the much-loved Dorothy Gale story of The Wizard of Oz. For Charlebois, “I think it’s a great take on Oz. It makes you think a little more.” She remembers going to see Oz after getting to know Wicked closely, and loved watching the pieces fall together. “They’ve thought of a lot of plot lines that make sense – politically and otherwise,” Charlebois notes. “I think it’s a great take on it!”
With Steel Magnolias and Fiddler on the Roof in addition to Wicked on her repertoire, what does Charlebois have her sights set on for the future? “There are so many productions I would love to do!” she tells us. “I would love to do Newsies! There’s a character called Catherine; I love her material and her story. It would be a nice bonus because my fiancée is in that production as well!”
But for right now, the future is full of Wicked. As Charlebois puts it, audiences should “expect a spectacle! I think it’s beyond what anyone is expecting to happen on that stage. The story is so twisted, and the music is unbelievable and so vocally challenging. It’s beyond what you expect to see when you sit down in that chair.”
Centre in the Square Presents: Wicked
August 29 – September 9
“I love the opening number,” Charlebois says as we’re wrapping up the interview. “That’s probably my favourite part of the show to be in. But, for audiences, the favourite song is definitely ‘Defying Gravity’!”
Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.