'Wicked' actress talks going green, Memphis barbecue

MEMPHIS, TN (NBC) - "Wicked," Broadway's biggest blockbuster that's won more than 100 international awards including a Grammy and three Tonys, is in Memphis from March 7-25 at the Orpheum Theatre.

The musical is based on the 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire and is an alternate take on the story of "The Wizard of Oz," exploring the backstory of Elphaba, who eventually becomes the Wicked Witch of the West.

On Thursday, I got a sneak peek at how the magic becomes reality – more specifically, how actress Mary Kate Morrissey goes green to become Elphaba.

It turns out that being green is a lot easier than Kermit and the Muppets would have you believe.

Joyce McGilberry, the makeup supervisor, said it takes approximately 15 minutes to "greenify" Mary Kate before the show.

"It's kind of just like getting your makeup done," Mary Kate said. "I mean, it's different because it's green, but what's so special I think is that it looks like me, it's just green."

(Joyce McGilberry and Mary Kate Morrissey prepare for the greenifying. Photo Credit: WMC Action News 5)

Joyce starts off applying a green base, similar to foundation. After the preliminary greenification, then it's time for the details like blush, eyeshadow, and so on. She also adds translucent setting powder to keep the green from smearing, which also prevents the green makeup from getting on the props and costumes.

"It gets really dramatic in the second act because that's when she goes super-glam, so you see a little more eyeliner, a little more eyeshadow, and contouring," Mary Kate said. "It's just like getting my makeup done, and Miss Joyce makes me look really beautiful."

By the end of the process Mary Kate's face, neck, hands, and arms are completely green. She also wears a green bodysuit to hide all traces of normal skin tone.

Before taking on the lead role, Mary Kate was the Elphaba standby, ready to fill in for the lead actress should the need arise. She said Elphaba's understudy is usually hanging out backstage, and if she needs to fill in, she can become completely greenified in about seven minutes.

Joyce, who's been on the tour for several years, has been a theatre makeup artist for 11 and a half years and is a native of the Columbia, South Carolina area. She said she got into theatre after her husband passed away to help her cope, and the experience has changed her, as she quoted the musical, "for good."

"She's painted like a million green girls," Mary Kate said. "She's like the green girl sage."

While Joyce has been to Memphis many times before, it's Mary Kate's first visit, and she's already a big fan of the barbecue.

So far, she's eaten at B.B. King's and is hoping to try Central BBQ at some point during the tour in Memphis.

(Tom McGowan as the Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Mary Kate Morrissey as Elphaba. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

Mary Kate said she's been a fan of musicals since the early days and said "Godspell," another Stephen Schwartz production, is her all-time favorite.

"It's just what I grew up listening to, my mom sang that to us when we were babies, and that was my first look into musical theatre," Mary Kate said. "It's so quirky and kooky and folksy."

She's loved "Wicked" since high school and said she used to listen to her friend's copy of the CD soundtrack on her Walkman.

Mary Kate said she feels that everyone who's ever been bullied or treated like an outsider can relate to her character.

"You resonate with all the people you see who overcome, conquer and succeed," Mary Kate said.

That's just one of the reasons she said she loves having the opportunity to play such an iconic role.

"I love playing colorful women who defy the odds and can break free of something society puts on them," Mary Kate said. "The music is amazing to sing and powerful, and it's a show that really touches people and moves people and it's still selling out houses like a decade later because the story is moving."

Her favorite number in the musical is the duet "Popular," sung with Glinda's actress Ginna Claire Mason.

"It's just so fun, and I love my Glinda, Ginna Claire, she's like the silliest, sweetest chick you'll ever meet," Mary Kate said. "It's hard not to laugh during it, and I think that it's really, really fun. That's my favorite scene to be in right now, besides 'Defying Gravity.'"

(Mary Kate Morrisey and Ginna Claire Mason perform "Popular." Photo Credit: Joan Mason)

Anyone who's seen "Wicked" will probably agree that "Defying Gravity" is one of the most iconic scenes of the entire musical. It's also one of her favorite memories on tour.

Mary Kate said in one town, they put on an autism-friendly performance with the lights on and a scaled-down version of the orchestra.

"It was so interesting for me to see what people were responding to," Mary Kate said. "It was almost like the audience was its own symphony because they would be talking and laughing and singing and all of these things, but then a song would come on and they would all settle."

She compared the experience to the ballroom scene in the first act where Elphaba is finally accepted for the first time and also to the aforementioned "Defying Gravity" scene.

"I've never felt that so deeply, where I've never felt like saying the line, 'Everyone deserves a chance to fly,' so deeply in that performance," Mary Kate said.

Portraying theatre's most pop-u-lar green witch hasn't been without its challenges, though.

"My biggest challenge so far, I think, would be realizing that me as MK, is not to be Elphie," Mary Kate said. "In the musical, I don't have to add other things onto it, I don't have to riff onto some other person's performance, I don't have to make it anything except for exactly what it is, what's written, and it's because I have Elphie in me. The more that I ground myself and let all of the other affectations fall away, the deeper I feel the musical, and the better response I get, too. That trope, 'you are enough,' it's a trope for a reason because it actually is true."

One of her favorite things about the tour has been interacting with the fans. She said she loves seeing fans in the audience dressed up as Elphaba, green makeup and all. She said in Portland, they even saw a bunch of older men dressed up as Glinda the Good Witch.

"They're big fans because the show touches them and that is the goal, so I love meeting fans outside the stage door," Mary Kate said.

She said the fans often send them stuff like posters and fan art. She's even received a pink unicorn onesie, which she slipped on after the greenification to go to the wardrobe department.

"The fans are the best!" Mary Kate said. "I think that they keep seeing the show because they keep seeing the different actresses in the roles because everyone brings something so different to it for them."

(Mary Kate Morrissey and Joyce McGilberry , post-greenification. Photo Credit: WMC Action News 5)

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