DIVA TALK: Chatting with Wicked and Rags Star Eden Espinosa, Plus a "Dreamgirls" Preview

By Andrew Gans
01 Dec 2006

Q: What are some of the rewards of playing the role?
Espinosa: So many. As tired as I was all the time, I didn't care. . . . Doing eight shows a week, [there are some days when you think], "Honestly, I don't feel like doing it today," but the difference [with this part is] even though I had those days, the second I ran out on that stage, it was so fast and so fun and so easy to get lost in it. I just think [book writer] Winnie [Holzman] did a great job of writing this role. You take such an amazing journey, and it's a blessing to be in a hit. It really is. [The audience is] never disappointed. They're so gracious, and you have a packed house every single night, and that is not the norm. So I really tried to relish that every night.

Q: Why do you think the show has remained such a hit?
Espinosa: I think it's just human. I really give the credit to Winnie and [composer] Stephen [Schwartz]. I think the songs, the melodies, the book — it's just so human. Everyone can find something in it to relate to: a relationship with somebody or being treated like an outcast or being misunderstood. I think they did a good job of these larger-than-life [characters] — a green girl, a flying monkey. Even the flying monkey is made really human. I really love that about the show.

Q: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for Elphaba?
Espinosa: There are so many. I have a different favorite every day. "I'm Not That Girl" I really enjoy. It has the softer, vulnerable side, the more human side. She kind of lets [the audience] in for a little bit. And I love "Popular." It's not even my number, but doing that number with Megan Hilty [is great]. Beside [Kristin] Chenoweth, it doesn't get much better than that. I really like being in that number and reacting to the Glinda, whoever she may be. It's just fun for me.

Q: I know you had been offered the role of Fantine in the Les Miz revival. Was it difficult to choose the L.A. company of Wicked over that?
Espinosa: Actually, the offer for the L.A. company of Wicked came in later, so it wasn't a deciding [factor] between the two jobs. I knew it was a possibility, but it wasn't [definite]. Les Miz is my dream show — it still is to this day. To be offered Fantine, a role that I wasn't even originally going in for — I was going in for Eponine and Cosette. Then, at that moment [I was asked], "Do you know 'I Dreamed a Dream'? We want to hear your Fantine." I cried when they called me and told me I got it.

Q: Why didn't you end up doing the role?
Espinosa: It just didn't work out. It was a hard [decision], but I just feel you learn more about yourself every day, and I figure I'm 28. Most people who play Fantine are older, and I'll have another chance to do it hopefully. It's an amazing role, and I really hope one day I get to sink my teeth into those 45 minutes. [Laughs.]

Q: Are you looking forward to being in L.A. performing in Wicked?
Espinosa: I am. I really am. . . . They're going to implement the changes made for [the] London [production of Wicked] in the L.A. company. It's going to be great re-creating it and working with Megan and just being home in Southern California with an amazing job.

Q: How long are you contracted with the show?
Espinosa: Six to nine months.

Q: Would you like to try to segue into TV and film work?
Espinosa: I would at some point. I'm just now starting to. Thank God, I've been working consistently and haven't been available for things, but I just booked my first "Law & Order," so that was exciting for me.

Q: Did you enjoy that process?
Espinosa: I was glad that I got to do the regular "Law & Order" because I know Jesse [Martin] from recordings and benefits. To do a scene with him on my first TV job was comforting. It probably wasn't as nerve-wracking as it normally would have been had I not known Jesse.

Q: You're also going to be part of the Rags concert.
Espinosa: Yeah, we start rehearsals on Monday [Nov. 27].

Q: Tell me about Bella, the character you'll be playing.
Espinosa: I just know a little about the story [at this point]. I'm not familiar with Rags other than it was Judy Kuhn's show and people loved it and it lasted a lot shorter than it should have. But I'm excited to dive into that and be a part of it.

[Rags — with Espinosa, Carolee Carmello, Michael Rupert, Lewis Cleale, Gregg Edelman and Lainie Kazan — will be presented at the Nokia Theatre, 1515 Broadway at 44th Street, Dec. 11 at 7 PM. Tickets are available by calling (212) 307-7171 or by www.ticketmaster.com.]

Theatre industry folk were treated to a sneak preview of Dreamworks/Paramount Pictures' "Dreamgirls" this past Wednesday night at the Loews Theatre on West 34th Street. Among the bold-faced names in the audience — who all received the gorgeous full-color "Dreamgirls" program — were Liza Minnelli, Julia Murney and Christine Pedi, designer Tony Walton, directors Richard Jay-Alexander, Tommy Tune and Jeff Calhoun, "Theater Talk" co-host Susan Haskins as well as "Dreamgirls" writer/director Bill Condon, composer Henry Krieger and lighting designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer. Prior to the screening of the terrific film — which garnered enthusiastic applause throughout, especially at the sight of theatre veterans Ken Page and Loretta Devine — Condon offered a few introductory remarks. The Oscar-nominated "Chicago" screenwriter joked that after a few recent West Coast screenings, he was happy that he needn't inform the crowd that "Dreamgirls" is based on a Broadway musical of the same name. He also said that when composer Krieger initially called to sing one of the film's new songs, "Love You I Do," he was completely awestruck and asked how Krieger was able to write such a powerful song for Effie so many years later. The Tony-winning composer responded, "I am Effie!" Since the film hasn't officially opened, I don't want to write too much, but I will say that this "Dreamgirls" overflows with music, emotion and talent. And, the huge-voiced Jennifer Hudson should get ready to enjoy the fame and adulation that was denied her on "American Idol." It's also the first movie musical since "Grease" was released when I was a kid that I've wanted to watch again immediately after it ended.

"Live From Lincoln Center," which recently broadcast Audra McDonald's American Songbook concert, will televise the four-time Tony Award winner's upcoming New Year's Eve concert. McDonald is scheduled to perform at the New York Philharmonic's annual New Year's Eve gala concert on Dec. 31. PBS stations will broadcast the event live at 8 PM ET; check local listings. Tony Award winner Ted Sperling will conduct the New York Philharmonic orchestra. The evening, titled "Audra McDonald Sings the Movies for New Year's Eve," will feature tunes from such films as "The Wizard of Oz," "A Star Is Born," "Cabin in the Sky," "A Little Night Music," "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "My Fair Lady."

Sherie Rene Scott, most recently seen on Broadway in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, will launch a new concert series presented by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. The In Concert series will kick off Dec. 4 with Scott's 7 PM performance. The new series — produced by Jayson Raitt and Daniel Whitman — will continue Jan. 29, 2007, at 7 PM with a triple bill: Douglas Sills, Todd Murray and Sally Wilfert. Former March of the Falsettos co-stars, Michael Rupert and Alison Fraser, will take to the Center stage March 19, also at 7 PM. The Center is located in Manhattan at 208 West 13th Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. Tickets, priced $20, $35, $75 and $150, are available by calling (212) 620-7310 or by visiting www.gaycenter.org.

And, finally, Tony Award winner Betty Buckley will perform in concert Dec. 2 at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ. Buckley will be accompanied by her sextet at the 8 PM concert. The celebrated singing actress will perform songs from the Broadway stage, tunes from contemporary composers and holiday fare. Following the performance, the former Sunset Boulevard star will fly to Washington, DC, to be part of the annual Kennedy Center Honors Dec. 3. Buckley and Sarah Brightman will serenade honoree Andrew LLoyd Webber with the Cats anthem "Memory." Buckley will return to New York mid-December to perform an evening of William Finn's Elegies at Joe's Pub. The 9:30 PM evening will also feature the talents of Christian Borle, Michael Rupert, Darius de Haas and Sally Wilfert. And, Buckley will also be part of Lincoln Center's ninth annual American Songbook series, performing Feb. 10, 2007, at the Allen Room, located in the Frederick P. Rose Hall at Broadway and 60th Street. (The State Theatre is located at 15 Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick, NJ. Tickets, priced $45-$70, are available by calling (732) 246-SHOW or by visiting www.statetheatrenj.org.)

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.