Since childhood, Alexandra Billings has longed to travel over the rainbow. Like many LGBTQ youth, she saw her journey in Dorothy’s, ill-suited for sepia-toned Kansas and thrown into a technicolor landscape. She learned to empathize with the Wicked Witch of the West, unjustly maligned after the untimely loss.
But despite her Oz obsession—or perhaps because of it—Billings has never seen Wicked. “I don’t know what I was thinking. They’re going to take away my transgender card,” she jokes. “I hold The Wizard of Oz in high esteem, so when it came out, I was suspicious.” Now, she has the chance not only to see it, but live it, taking over the role of Madame Morrible beginning January 20.
“A hero is never a pure hero unless there are villainous attributes,” she says, clarifying her familiarity with the musical’s premise. “We are born out of a chaotic universe, which is full of darkness and light. Elphaba and Glinda are both of those things. Madame Morrible is certainly both of those things.”
Though Morrible’s grand malapropisms (and wigs) elicit laughs, her darkness becomes the driving force behind Elphaba’s persecution. Still, her duality “makes perfect sense” to Billings.
“It truly is our story,” she says. “Being a mixed race trans person, I live in a world that continues to be a place for a specific kind of person. My whole life has been about survival and trying to be seen in a world that does not acknowledge my existence. For me, that’s true of Morrible. She has risen in a way no other ‘otherized’ human has, and she recognizes Elphaba from the beginning: ‘There’s something in this human I need to tap into so that we can survive.’”
The Transparent alum, who appeared on Broadway last season in The Nap, makes history as the first openly trans performer to play Morrible, on the heels of Pose’s Mj Rodriguez claiming a similar distinction as Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors. Neither role was written explicitly as trans, but that doesn’t mean they’re cisgender. “You have to look at the history of theatre,” Billings reasons. “Art was not the reflection of the human experience; it was the reflection of the male experience.”
Rather than allow that to limit the roles available to her, she asserts: “I couldn’t care less about their history. Trans or not, if I’m playing the role, it’s going to be trans, because I’m trans. Times change and humanity changes. What we’ve learned is that art is the reflection of the human experience.”
Billings is ready to bring her experience to her beloved Oz: “I love this world. It makes sense to me; it always has.”
Truly, there’s no place like home.