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Interview: Austen Danielle Bohmer and Lauren Samuels on Bringing WICKED to Toronto

Stars Austen Danielle Bohmer and Lauren Samuels talk all things WICKED as the beloved musical flies back into Toronto

By: Jun. 04, 2024
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Austen Danielle Bohmer as Glinda and Lauren Samuels as Elphaba in the National Tour of WICKED. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus 2024

Something WICKED this way comes…

From June 5th until July 24th, the touring production of the hit Broadway Musical WICKED will be at Mirvish’s Princess of Wales Theatre. For over 20 years now, the songs, comedy, message, and heart of this musical have been captivating audiences with "The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz." In this story, we get to truly meet Elphaba - better known as the Wicked Witch of the West, and Galinda AKA Glinda the Good as they begin school together at Shiz University. WICKED peels back the curtain on the story we think we know.

About one month ago, eight new cast members stepped into principal roles in the National Tour of WICKED. This included leads, Lauren Samuels as Elphaba and Austen Danielle Bohmer as Glinda. Broadway World had the opportunity to chat with each of them about what it is like joining this juggernaut of a show, adjusting to life on tour, getting to be in WICKED at the same time that the much anticipated movie comes out, and what this show, these characters, and their powerful friendship means to them. 

Given that both actors are still quite new to this show and the roles are so demanding, BWW opened the conversations with each of them asking how things are going so far...

"This show is no joke!" laughs Bohmer. "I care so much about it and I really feel this great weight and responsibility in telling this story. Despite all of the incredible comedy and spectacle and fun, at it’s core, this story is really moving and also has a lot of political and social relevance and that is where I feel the most passion in connecting to it.” She adds that she is still in the process of perfecting the work/life balance that will allow her to take care of herself, enjoy the new cities she's visiting, and also conserve energy for the show. She has taken to going for walks and discovering the nature in the places she is visiting. She is also making a point to find spots to rock climb - something she shares she loves to do but jokes she is no expert at.

Samuels echoes Bohmer's sentiments about the how challenging this beast of a show is: "It’s a very demanding role, Elphaba. It’s the most demanding role that I’ve ever done to date. It’s a lot." She shares that she is "absolutely loving" playing the green girl, but that there is certainly some sacrifice necessary to do it eight times a week! “I call it living the nun life." She says laughing. "After the show I’m straight home and I’m almost mute immediately and I’m steaming, and stretching, and sitting on my heat pad and doing what I have to do.” She doesn’t talk until a certain time in the morning and continues to steam, stretch, go to physio, etc. during the day. “I’m hoping that I can relax into it a bit when it gets more into my body, and start to have a life again (laughs) but at the moment it’s definitely all encompassing.”

On top of all of this, this is also Samuels' North American theatre debut. Hailing from the UK, she has had much success on the West End. She now she lives with her husband in the US and is adjusting to the differences of North American Theatre vs that in the UK. "It's funny because I thought a lot of it would be the same, but it's really dissimilar!" She explains she had to learn a lot of new terminology. For example, "Beginners" is now "Places", the half hour call is actually a half hour before the show is supposed to start (as opposed to 35 minutes), and the entire concept of a "put-in" was quite literally foreign to her. In short, it's a lot!

One huge source of support for both Bohmer and Samuels is the "Sisterhood" of Glindas and Elphabas that immediately welcomed them. “The sisterhood is real!" Samuels exclaims. "I cannot tell you how big the sisterhood is. It’s amazing. The second my name was announced I had dms from past and present Elphabas from all over the place." She adds that she frequently exchanges emails with current Broadway Elphaba Mary Kate Morrissey. “Everybody is so so supportive. I genuinely don’t know of another role in musical theatre that is like this. It’s amazing."

Bohmer feels equally supported, “That’s one of the coolest things about being a part of this show, is just that there is like a true sisterhood. For 20 years there have been incredible women who have taken on this responsibility and so you don’t feel alone in it, which is amazing. You feel really connected to all of the women who have told this story.” 

Bohmer in fact already had a connection to a couple of former Glindas. She understudied former Tour Glinda Jeanna de Waal in DIANA: THE MUSICAL on Broadway, and she was recently in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at the Papermill Playhouse with her friend, and current Broadway Glinda, Alexandra Socha. “We’re doing it at the very same time which is so unique." She shares that Socha has certainly talked shop and given her Glinda pointers, but she finds the most valuable part of this unique bond is that they completely understand what the other is experiencing and can check in with one another and "help keep each other grounded."

At this point, it seems that just about every performer has some kind of connection to WICKED, and it was very interesting to hear from Bohmer and Samuels about their respective journeys to this beloved musical.

For Samuels, it started when she saw WICKED on the West End. "I saw (Original Broadway Elphaba, and Tony Award winner) Idina Menzel in it because she came to open the show in the West End. I remember I was with my friend Flick from drama school at the time. I said to her ‘One day, babe. One day, I’m gonna be that part! I just want to be Elphaba so bad.’" It's pretty special that it is now finally happening.

Her yellow brick road had some interesting twists and turns along the way though. Samuels' first foray into the land of Oz was not too long after she saw WICKED, when she found herself as a contestant on the BBC reality show Over the Rainbow – A contest to find the next Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ on the West End. Samuels was the second runner up and in a delightful 'twister' of fate, the top 3 contestants all found their way to Oz in three different iconic roles. The winner, Danielle Hope of course starred as Dorothy, the runner-up Sophie Evans played Glinda in WICKED on the West End, and now Samuels is completing the Ozian trifecta by donning the green as Elphaba. “It’s wild to me...I feel so blessed to have been on this journey because Oz does mean so much to me. It has been such a big part of my life whether that be Dorothy, Glinda, or Elphaba, or the Scarecrow or the Lion or anything. It’s all been such a huge part of my life – I feel like I’m almost tying it up in a bow now at the end getting to play this part, so it means a lot to me.”

Bohmer's first experience with WICKED had one similarity to Samuels' in that she too saw Idina Menzel as her first Elphaba. "I actually saw Kristin Chenoweth’s final performance, which was a total happenstance. I remember just feeling like they were spinning things off the cuff [because it was her last show]…I must have been nine or something and I remember thinking this is the best thing ever." Bohmer shares that she grew up in a theatre family just outside of New York City and as such, had the opportunity to take in a lot of theatre while growing up. Unlike with Samuels' experience, Bohmer did not walk away from WICKED thinking 'One day, I'm gonna be that part.' “I don’t think I ever imagined that I would play Glinda” Bohmer shares. “It was so not in my awareness…I went in once for Nessarose and I thought if there is a place for me in this show, it’s maybe Nessa. And this came very surprisingly across my proverbial desk. I really believe that roles and shows come to you when they are meant to, at points in your life when they are supposed to come. I was like, I think I really would love to do this. I think this would be such a gift in my life right now to tell this story. And then somehow I ended up getting the job!"

Bohmer, who sports a fashionable mullet in real life, has dubbed herself 'Mullet Glinda.' She shares that it's important to her that young people who see the show know that someone who looks and dresses like her, and who "walks through the world" very differently than a 'Glinda type' might, can play someone like Glinda too. “It’s really important to me that people know that someone who looks like me...can play this role, and can sort of find all of the colours in this person. So I feel really grateful that I’m getting the opportunity to do this and yeah, Glinda and I are very different people" she laughs.

One element of Glinda that Bohmer feels many people, including herself, can relate with, is her journey to discovering what it really means to be 'good.' "A lot of people see her as superficial...and I actually really don’t think that she is superficial. I think that Glinda is very aware of how she is being received by people. She is sort of obsessed with her image and being perceived as good, and right, and nice, and perfect and I think she comes from a background that forces that upon her and so she doesn’t really know anything else – and it causes her to not really be able to look outside herself and think of anyone else because she’s just chasing after her own imprint and making sure that it’s neat and tidy and good."

The relationships and events of the musical cause Glinda to start to wrestle with the question of what it means to actually be a good person and to show up for the important people in her life. Bohmer thinks this is a journey that a lot of women go through as they grow older. "I think women are taught to be 'good' and I think that’s what’s so incredible about Elphaba’s journey, is that it’s a kind of permission to women that they do not have to be ‘good’ and that whatever that means for them is actually okay...And then with Glinda, women can see Glinda go on this massive journey and say oh wow, if I constantly align myself with what other people want of me, I’m going to end up not satisfied for myself. I’m going to be living for other people and I’m going to end up in a bubble, and I will not have access to real relationship." Bohmer adds: "We don’t think about this necessarily, but Glinda does kind of hold all of the moral complexity that is in this show...She is the moral compass of the show. She’s the one wrestling with these questions."

While Glinda has arguably the more standard character arc in this show, Elphaba has a pretty juicy arc as well, and Samuels loves it.

"She starts quite explosively at Shiz because she finds herself once again in a place where everyone is going to alienate her because of her skin.” She comes in hopeful, only to get the same treatment, so she "puts up walls and makes jokes about it." And then, when she does feel a sense of being accepted, “she has this childlike glee and she is so excited to go and see the Wizard” only to have “this gut wrenching punch when she realizes that the Wizard is not who she thinks he is.”

Samuels shares that she relishes in playing Elphaba's descent into the 'wickedness' that everyone is waiting for, and adds that she loves the scene where she is holding Dorothy prisoner. “I love getting to go from this jubilant Wizard and I Elphaba to this Elphaba that’s so intense."  Currently, her favourite song to sing has become No Good Deed - where Elphaba, full of despair, vows to become the very thing she has been called all along. “I just love her arc. It’s such a blessing to be able to have such a stark change from the Elphaba that you meet to the Elphaba that ends the show, and I absolutely love it. She’s so powerful.”

When asked about some of their favourite moments, there is some lovely overlap between Bohmer's and Samuels' answers.

Bohmer immediately mentions the scene where Glinda and Elphaba dance together in the Ozdust Ballroom. Moments like these are special to Bohmer because of the exploration of female friendship. "It’s one of my favourite things in any Art." She explains, "I’m so attracted to movies and tv that tell stories of female friendship. They’re rare. It’s not that common that we get to celebrate that, and so yeah, that moment I think encapsulates this beautiful recognition that women often feel in friendship…You’re my mirror. You’re reflecting something back to me that I never knew I could see and I need to see it and I need you to show me this other side of myself. It’s the best part of the show.”

Bohmer and Samuels both also cite their moment together in For Good as something that is very moving every night. According to Bohmer, in this moment, "they have become so enmeshed" and they take this moment to recognize where they are and how much they influenced one another. 

“In rehearsals we would cry and we couldn’t get through the end of the song.” Samuels reveals. Even now, several weeks in, the scene remains poignant to the pair. "We can see in each other’s eyes if it’s going too far and we give each other a squeeze of the hand like ‘you can do this.’ “

BWW had to ask Samuels and Bohmer about the moments they enjoyed the most from each other's performances.

“I love Austen’s Glinda so much!" Samuels exclaims. "She’s like a geeky Glinda almost, but in like the funniest way! I love when we’re in the train station and she’s discovering that she’s going to change her name. The way that she takes so long, you can see that she’s trying to come up with something genius. We were cracking up in rehearsals for ages over that part. I also love our moment together in Popular when she’s trying to do the ballgown. She’s starting to come up with this thing where she sort of pokes me with the wand and it really makes me laugh.”

“The first thing that comes to mind is No Good Deed “ Bohmer says of Samuels' performance. "I think she does it so beautifully.” She adds, “An overarching thing that I love about Lauren’s Elphie is that there’s a softness to her…She’s not like a bulldozer Elphie. We get to see a little bit more of how these things are impacting her. She is incredibly strong and incredibly resilient, and you see that from the top…but I think she’s a little more porous than some Elphabas are, and I think it gives the audience access to how this is impacting her. Then, when we get to Act 2, we understand why she has gotten to where she has, because you see all of the accumulation of the pain that she’s experiencing in a really beautiful way."

The bond between Samuels and Bohmer appears to be just as strong as the bond between Elphaba and Glinda, as both also cite another favourite moment that technically exists outside of the show itself:

Bohmer explains: "When we finish the show, [Lauren] and I take each other’s hands to go back for curtain call and before those clock doors open for the iconic bow, the two of us are just standing there and we start our cool downs and we just hold each other’s hands and look at each other and take deep breaths…we’re very calm, which is so nice.”

“That’s when Austen and Lauren get to be together.” Samuels adds. “We have this moment where we’re like ‘Did you have a good show? I loved it when you did this.’ We’re always chatting before we get to do our bow together and that’s a nice moment that we share."

Yet another special moment these two will get to share is the experience of being Elphaba and Glinda when the much anticipated WICKED movie opens in November. 

“To know that there is a whole added excitement and celebration around this show that we love so much is really cool and it’s almost like you can feel it in the audiences now." Bohmer shares. "At least I feel that there is this added kind of hunger for the story that I think will probably only accumulate as the movie comes out...I’m hoping that some people who might not have ordinarily seen this musical might come and see it, because they saw the movie and they’re curious about how it’s different."

“Every time the movie teases a clip of it, it makes me so emotional." Samuels adds. "And of course Cynthia [Erivo] is British and I know Cynthia, we’ve worked together in the past in England. So it feels very emotional to be playing Elphaba at the same time as this. And I know the whole company feels the same way. Every time a new clip comes out we all talk about it backstage...To be playing this role at the same time as the movie does feel extraordinarily special.”

As WICKED prepares to open once again in Toronto, BWW had to ask Samuels and Bohmer about how they are feeling about this next leg of the tour.

It will be Samuels' first trip to the Great White North! “I’m so excited to visit Toronto! I’ve never been to Canada at all and I’ve heard that Toronto is amazing so I’m very excited.” 

Bohmer shares in her excitement: "I’ve never been to Toronto. I’ve heard the most wonderful things. “I’m really stoked about being there for Pride! That’s really exciting to me.” She adds, “One of the coolest things about being on tour, especially when we get these longer sit downs, is just being able to find your little spots and dip into community for a while – find your people wherever you go. So yeah, I’m excited to figure out what that looks like!"

If the buzz around town is any indication, Toronto is equally as excited to see them!


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