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BWW Interviews: Jacquelyn Piro Donovan Talks THE WIZARD OF OZ

Jacquelyn Piro Donovan as the Wicked Witch of the West.
Photo by Tom Donoghue/Donoghue Photography.

In no time at all, Houstonians will be able to click their heels and follow the yellow brick road to The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts to see Theatre Under the Stars' presentation of the National Tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's THE WIZARD OZ, which is adapted from the popular 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film. This production, which initially ran in Toronto from late 2012 through August 18, 2013, began touring North America on September 10, 2013. In anticipation of the musical landing in Houston, I spoke with Jacquelyn Piro Donovan who plays Miss Gulch and The Wicked Witch of the West about the show and her career.

BWW: How did you first get involved with theatre?

Jacquelyn Piro Donovan: Oh my gosh. I sort of came out of my mother's womb knowing [Laughs] I was going to be an actress. I used to run around the house all the time screaming that I was going to be an actress. I don't know why, but I just always knew. I never really varied from that confidence. My mother used to call me "Little Sarah Bernhardt" because I was so dramatic. [Laughs] I got into plays and musicals in grade school, then I did community theatre when I was in high school, and then I immediately went to Boston University. I was an acting major and got my BFA from there, and I moved to New York directly after graduation. I booked my first job, actually, and got my Equity Card in Boston. When I was still in school, I did a show called NITE CLUB CONFIDENTIAL, which was starring Carolee Carmello and Scott Bakula. It was crazy, and when I moved to New York, I had already gotten my union card.

BWW: How did you come to be involved with this tour of THE WIZARD OF OZ?

Jacquelyn Piro Donovan: I had actually just done the other version of WIZARD OF OZ for Sacramento Music Circus last summer, playing the Wicked Witch. I got home, and my agent called me. He said, "They're looking for a witch on tour." I originally had said to him, "No, I don't want to do that." I'm married, and I don't really like going away. He sort of wrote me back this very large, prompt e-mail saying, in all caps and exclamation points, "REALLY?" [Laughs] I had a conversation with him, and he said, "It's such a great role" and "You really should reconsider." I did, and I ended up auditioning for it in the city.

It was a really strange audition because none of the powers that be could be there. The casting guy, Justin, was there from Chelsea (Studios), and our general manager, but the Director, the Associate Director, the Chorographer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and all of them couldn't be there. They were all in different countries. So, they actually videotaped my audition, and I ended up getting it. They passed the videotape around, and everybody signed off on me. It's a very strange way to get a job. That's not the norm.

BWW: What is like bringing Miss Gulch and The Wicked Witch of the West, characters made famous by Margaret Hamilton, to life on stage?

Jacquelyn Piro Donovan: It's really fun! In our production, she's a bit more psychotic than Margaret Hamilton. She sort of turns on a dime. She's more playful. She's definitely funnier. I think that I walk a very, very fine line between trying to maintain that amazing menacing quality that Margaret Hamilton had and also trying to be humorous because our script lends itself to that. Things are different when you're watching them on stage as an audience member. I think it's a bit more entertaining for them, on stage, to see this crazy costume that they've built for me. My wig in the second act stands up straight, literally stands up straight, about a foot, a foot-and-a-half. I have a slit in the font of my costume. I'm wearing a corset with this absolutely crazy thing that goes around my shoulders and stands up straight as well. It's just cuckoo, and she's just really fun. I'm just having an absolute blast.

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