Interview: WICKED's Mary Kate Morrissey on Why Taking on Elphaba Full-Time 'Feels Right'

Morrissey has played hundreds of performances as Elphaba on tour and as the Standby on Broadway.

By: Apr. 04, 2024
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Interview: WICKED's Mary Kate Morrissey on Why Taking on Elphaba Full-Time 'Feels Right'
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Mary Kate Morrissey has been taking flight as Elphaba in Wicked for around a decade, playing the role on tour, and going on for over 100 performances as the Standby for the Broadway production. Now, Morrissey has stepped into the role full-time on Broadway!

BroadwayWorld spoke with Mary Kate Morrissey about what she's learned from her time as Elphaba, why she feels ready now to take on Elphaba full-time, working alongside new cast members, and much more. 

You played Elphaba on the national tour of Wicked, and you were the standy for Elphaba on Broadway. How does it feel to step into Elphaba’s shoes full time?

It feels right. I was a standby on the tour too. And so, it's kind of been eight or nine years in the making. And I don't think I would have been able to do it until right now. I think having done it on the road full time with Ginna Claire Mason, my Glinda, who is my best friend, was so informative and helped me understand who Elphaba is. And then standing by helped me understand the rigors of Broadway and how it's different with the raked stage, with more attention from the creative team. So, doing it now, full-time, feels right. It feels like I am ready for my own cast. I'm ready for my new Glinda and to be a leader at the Gershwin. And I feel like I can own that without feeling imposter syndrome or like I'm not ready. I feel like everything has kind of led to this point.

I'm really lucky. I really feel like some people don't want to stand by, but I don't know how I would have done it full time without standing by first and getting that experience under my belt. When you're standing by, all of the lessons that you have to learn are fed to you in digestible increments. So, something goes wrong, or I mess up a blocking thing, or one time I couldn't figure out how to get the broom off the tower, or something like that, I have a couple days in between shows to play with it and then feel confident going back in. It doesn't feel like a race. So, I feel like I've already troubleshooted so much of my show technically that it feels like there's an ease about it and a grounded-ness that's come from that experience.


When you stepped into the role full time you got new castmates in the form of Donna McKechnie, Alexandra Socha and Brad Oscar. What has it been like working with them? 

I am humbled to be on the stage with giants. Working with Donna is crazy. To be associated with her, and her being a living legend, and playing Madame Morrible to my Elphaba… Morrible is such a mentor to Elphaba, she takes her under her wing and she encourages her. And Donna has been doing that to me too. She's so encouraging. She's right there with you. My mom is a basketball ref. And she says you have to play with people who are better than you to get better. And that's how I feel with this cast. I feel like Brad, Alexandra, Natalie [Ortega], and Donna, I feel like I'm playing with the best of the best, and it's only heightening my show and making me better, which is so exciting. 

What went into you taking on the role behind the scenes? Were there rehearsals with new cast members?

Yeah, it was kind of surprising. I left my standby contract a month early because they were like, "We want to give you a break. Why don't you take two weeks?" So, I went and played golf with my mom, and went to the D.R. with my husband. And then I was in three weeks of rehearsal. And I've done more than 500 shows of Wicked [laughs], maybe even 600. I did more than 100 on Broadway as a standby. And so, I was like, “You guys are putting me back into rehearsal?” But when I got there I couldn't get enough of stripping down who I had imagined this person to be and reinvestigating the text.

Rehearsing with Donna was amazing, rehearsing with Brad was amazing. And Socha is brand new to Wicked! I've had, like, 15 Glindas - Glindas are my favorite people on the planet- and it's so fun to watch a new Glinda come into her regal-ness and her light of playing it. My favorite part of Glinda is that she takes all the really hard, sharp parts of life and just softens them. That's her magic power. And to see Socha, who does that in her real life, figure out how to do that through rehearsal with me and with the text, it was really rewarding.

Do you have a favorite onstage moment?

My favorite onstage moment will always be Ozdust Ballroom, when the two girls do the dance together, and then everyone does the dance together for the first time. For me it feels like that's where the play begins. When Elphaba, for a second, lowers her guard, to Glinda making a genuine effort to include her in something, and that's the seed of their friendship. And I think the whole show just grows from there. That part is really, really important to me. And the other cool thing about it is that there are no words. The whole thing is done through movement. You don't get to see that in a lot of Broadway shows these days. And this is 21 years in the making, you know? It still holds up, that's kind of storytelling.

You’ve been with this show in different aspects for so long, has anything surprised you so far about your time as Elphaba on Broadway?

That's a really good question. I'm expecting a lot of surprises to come. I am a different person from when I started playing her in 2015, than when I started playing her in 2017, than when I started last year as the standby. My expectations are to grow as a person and a leading lady by learning from Elphaba, who pushes the limits of what people expect of her. That's the thing I've learned so much so far, is that we set these limitations on ourselves, and the line is a lot farther than you think it is. And to be gifted the opportunity to push further past my own expectations, the whole year I'm sure will be littered with surprises.

I think the most surprising thing so far is… I had this idea that you had to put a hat on a hat, or blur the line between where I begin and where Elphaba ends, and that it was really important that I put my stamp on it and play her the way that I want to play her. And I now see that that is a very selfish way to look at it, because everything about Wicked is already written, and already perfected, and already done. You're not going to reinvent the wheel. And so, I have found it surprising to have so much ease just playing what's on the page. And Alexandra Socha is the best partner for that because the two of us are so dedicated to just telling the story of Wicked, and not having it be about riffs or jokes, or whatever it is. Those things are there when they happen, but the story at its core is about friendship, and defying the odds, and overcoming self-doubt, and being true to who you are. And that's enough. That's plenty.


Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?

I know that I'm in a really lucky and privileged position to be telling this story eight times a week on Broadway. And I just hope that in this day and age Wicked can inspire people to look at the other and have compassion and empathy for them, because if you can root for a green person who is taking flight, something so otherworldly, then you can have compassion and empathy for your neighbor who is not like you. That’s why I think Wicked is still so relevant. I want that to be the message. I want us to learn from the way that Glinda accepts Elphaba and Elphaba accepts herself. The way the audience reacts to her, that you can react to the people in your life that you don't understand that way.

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