Think You Know Wicked’s Nessarose? Think Again.

Special Features   Think You Know Wicked’s Nessarose? Think Again. Seven actresses who played the role speak out about why audiences shouldn’t overlook Wicked’s other witch.
Christopher Fitzgerald and Michelle Federer
Christopher Fitzgerald and Michelle Federer Joan Marcus

You read about her in stories, you’ve heard her sister defy gravity, but who is the person behind one of musical theatre’s most mysterious supporting characters?

A diva on wheels, Nessarose is a more complicated character than most give credit. No question Elphaba is a layered character, but the beauty of Wicked is that the story has room for intricacy and character development across the board.

Nessarose may be quiet, but she is stronger than people think. With so many tricks up her sleeve, Playbill asked seven actresses who’ve taken on the role of Nessa over the years to weigh in on the Wicked Witch of the East. Thankfully they were willing to fly back to Oz one more time to reveal what makes Nessa’s dragon clock tick.

Dawn Cantwell

Dawn Cantwell
Dawn Cantwell Joan Marcus

Nessa Facts:
· Currently Nessarose on Broadway, Wicked is her second show on the Great White Way. (Cantwell last appeared in The Last Ship.)
· She loves Shakespeare and brings her classical training to the stage every night.

Where does Nessarose get her strength?
Dawn Cantwell: Love. A bottomless well of desire to love and to be loved. From my vantage point, she is driven by her deep yearning to be "normal,” to have meaningful connections with people. Tragically, she is ignorant to the unrequited nature of her feelings, which ultimately curdles that otherwise innocent, profound yearning for love, into hatred.

How did you bring that strength to the stage?
DC: As Viola [from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night] says to Orsino: "Ay, but I know—Too well what love women to men may owe... my father had a daughter loved a man... she never told her love, but let concealment like a worm with bud feed on her damask cheek. She pined in thought, and sat like patience on a monument. Smiling at grief.”

This speech sort of encapsulates Nessa for me. The thing that gives her strength is ultimately the thing that eats her alive: her desire for love. Like Nessa, I feel kindred with her in that deep drive for love that can be so intense. I also think there exists a quiet acceptance of her solitude, even as she so yearns to have loving experiences with her peers. Acceptance of solitude can be a source of strength and power.

What are qualities about Nessa that you loved?
DC: I love her capacity for love and her ferocious faith in it. The truth at the core of her humanity: She is just a girl looking for true love.

What is something about Nessa no one else knows?
DC: She prides herself on her library of physics jokes she has compiled. IN HER BRAIN!


Arielle Jacobs

Arielle Jacobs
Arielle Jacobs Joan Marcus

Nessa Facts:
· Played Nessarose from March 10, 2015 – January 31, 2016.
· Critics hailed her as “charming” and “strong.”
· Jacobs and her brother, actor Adam Jacobs, were on Broadway at the same time (she in Wicked, and he in Disney’s Aladdin). Soon they will be both be in Aladdin as she will play Jasmine in the Australian production.
· Her favorite part of the show is the Ozdust ballroom.

Where does Nessarose get her strength?
Arielle Jacobs: Her strength comes from pushing that wheelchair on a raked stage! Kidding! (Not kidding!) Her inner strength comes from enduring her ever-embarrassing sister, Elphaba.

How did you bring that strength to the stage?
AJ: I tried to show all the extremes of Nessa’s emotional range. [SPOILER ALERT] I wanted her to be completely in love with Boq—and be completely devastated when he runs away from her—and completely enraged when her sister returns home after abandoning her and causing their fatherÆs death.

What are qualities about Nessa that you loved?
AJ: I love that Nessa has a big crush on Boq and isn't ashamed of it! She has a big heart and big dreams. She doesn't feel sorry for herself, even though she's stuck in a chair.

What is something about Nessa no one else knows?
AJ: I think Nessa actually loves her sister Elphaba, even though she pretends to be annoyed with her most of the time. Nessa’s sister is her best friend. Also, when Boq makes a favorite drink she sips in Act 2, I believe it’s the same punch they had in the Ozdust ballroom (made of lemons and melons and pears, oh my!). She requests him to make it to relive the best day of her life: when they danced together for the first time.

Jenna Leigh Green

Jenna Leigh Green
Jenna Leigh Green Joan Marcus

Nessa Facts:
· After touring as Nessarose in Wicked’s first North American tour, Green transferred to the Broadway production in March 2006.
· She understudied Elphaba while on tour, and defied gravity over 40 times.
· Her favorite part in the show is when Nessa discovers her inner toughness.

Where does Nessarose get her strength?
Jenna Leigh Green: I believe Nessa gets her strength from pure determination. Being thought of as frail and weak her whole life, she uses/abuses her power to demand what she needs and wants.

How did you bring that strength to the stage?
JLG: I tried to really show how open and joyful she could be. There is a [line]… where Nessa states, “No. Don’t help me.” I loved having that moment where Nessa [finds strength] without help from anyone, something she had relied on her entire life.

What are the qualities about Nessa that you loved?
JLG: I loved Nessa’s quiet strength and her devotion. Even if her devotion was misguided, she never wavered in her love for Boq.

What is something about Nessa no one else knows?
JLG: No one really knows this, but Nessa has a Wicked sense of humor.…

Brynn O’Malley

Brynn O'Malley and Alex Brightman
Brynn O'Malley and Alex Brightman Joan Marcus

Nessa Facts:
· O’Malley met her best friend, Nicole Parker, while playing Nessarose on Broadway. Parker played her sister, Elphaba.
· She loves fashion!
· She rocked a pink headband under her Nessa wig.

Where does Nessarose get her strength?
Bryon O’Malley: Manually wheeling her body up and down Oz.

How did you bring that strength to the stage?
BM: With my neck and lower back, usually.

What are qualities about Nessa that you loved?
BM: Nessa has zero chill when it comes to her fashion. Not even talking about the shoes or the tights. I’m talking about a wide, late-’80s pink headband. Yas queen!

What is something about Nessa no one else knows?
BM: If her mother had just gotten the gluten-free milk thistle she would have been FINE.

Emily Ferranti

Emily Ferranti and Justin Brill
Emily Ferranti and Justin Brill

Nessa Facts:
· Ferranti played Nessarose and Glinda while understudying the roles on tour and on Broadway.
· One critic described her voice as “shining.”
· She teaches ZUMBA!

1) Where does Nessarose get her strength?
I think she gets her strength from her desire for independence. For most of her life she depends on her sister and is coddled by her and her father. But like most young people, she reaches an age where that drive to come into who she wants to be as a person takes over.

2) How did you bring that strength to the stage?
Through her anger. All of it is in the writing—especially in the latter part of the show. There, her strength has grown from her loss and pain. She has a lot of anger and that’s what drives her.

3) What are qualities about Nessa that you loved?
Her love and support for her sister. And I loved that she just wanted to belong with everyone. All she wants is to love and to be loved in return.

4) What is something about Nessa no one else knows?
She’s not the meek and sweet girl everyone thinks she is.


Jenny Sears

Alex Brightman and Jenny Fellner
Alex Brightman and Jenny Fellner Joan Marcus

Nessa Facts:
· Sears began her time as Nessa in January 2010.
· She loves a good mani/pedi
· She and her sisters are best friends.
· Formerly known as “Jenny Fellner,” she is now Jenny Sears after marrying fellow Broadway performer Brian Sears.

Where does Nessarose get her strength?
Jenny Sears: I think Nessarose’s strength ironically comes from her disability. Her physical limitations haven’t stopped her from doing anything she has set out to do. There is strength in achieving goals and in day-to-day life despite a major obstacle like not being able to use your legs!

How did you bring that strength to the stage?
JS: I really tried not to be encumbered by the wheelchair, both physically and mentally. I tried to make the wheelchair a part of me, as it would be for Nessa, so that her focus would not be on her physical limitations but instead on what she is setting out to achieve in each moment.

What are qualities about Nessa that you loved?
JS: I loved what I interpreted as a shyness about Nessarose. I myself am extremely shy and quiet, and I strongly associated with those qualities and grew to adore them about her and about myself! I also loved her relationship with her sister, even if it was difficult at times. My sisters are my best friends so I know how strong that love is!

What is something about Nessa no one else knows?
JS: She gets weekly pedicures. Seriously, like, the most beautiful feet you’ve ever seen, and she usually picks glitter nail polish.

Michelle Federer-Butz

Christopher Fitzgerald and Michelle Federer
Christopher Fitzgerald and Michelle Federer Joan Marcus

Nessa Facts:
· Being the original Nessarose on Broadway, one might call her “Queen Nessa.”
· Collectively, has played Nessarose for three years and three months. (That’s over 1,300 performances.)
· She met her husband, actor Norbert Leo Butz (original Fiyero), during Wicked.

Where does Nessarose get her strength?
Michelle Federer-Butz: I think the circumstances that Nessa was born into created a seed of determination inside of her. She was laser-focused on being accepted, on finding love. However, Nessa found herself alone after her father’s death and sister’s disappearance. That determination turned to rage and destruction.

How did you bring that strength to the stage?
MFB: I played Nessa for about three years and then was invited back for about three months a few years later. It wasn’t until the second time around that I truly connected with her sadness and mourning. There is an odd strength that comes from loss. A feeling that you’ve already been through the worst, so nothing else can really hurt you. I also connected to the intimacy, love and inevitable resentment between Nessa and Elphaba.

What are qualities about Nessa that you loved?
MFB: I loved Nessa’s hope and belief in love.

What is something about Nessa no one else knows?
MFB: She was secretly in love with Fiyero.

David Artavia is an actor, writer and microwave dinner enthusiast in New York City. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter at @DMArtavia.

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