DIVA TALK: Chatting with Wicked's Nicole Parker Plus News of Ripley and Cook

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06 Feb 2009

Nicole Parker
Nicole Parker
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Nicole Parker, who made her Broadway debut in 2006 as one of the Comedy All Stars in the Scott Wittman-directed Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me but who is best known for her work on the recently canceled FOX television series "MADtv," returned to Broadway last month in the hit Stephen Schwartz-Winnie Holzman musical Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre. The singing actress is the latest to don green make-up for the role of the not-so-wicked Elphaba, the part originally created by Tony Award winner Idina Menzel. Parker, who will be seen this summer opposite Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen in the film "Funny People," spoke with me last week about the challenges of her new Broadway role as well as her time spent opposite Martin Short in the aforementioned Fame Becomes Me; my interview with the Joseph Jefferson Award nominee (for her performance in Second City's Romeo and Juliet Musical) follows.

Question: How did this role come about?
Nicole Parker: Well, I think it started with me doing Martin Short's Fame Becomes Me show a couple years ago. In that there was a tip of the hat to Wicked. There was a parody where Marty envisioned his funeral and that the Broadway community would come together, and the Wicked girls would sing a song for him. So Marc Shaiman wrote this funny little song that had us belting our brains out. That was one of the lyrics actually. Bernie Telsey, who casts Wicked, also cast the show that Marty was in. Then, it became a joke. He was like, "Hey, you should play Elphaba!" Then I started to look at the music and go, "Could I really do this?" I was still doing "MADtv," so it seemed like a long way away, but every time I would come to New York and I'd do a benefit, I would run into people and again it would come up. "You should do Wicked." "Alright! Call me!" . . . . Then I started actually working with someone and working on the music, and it started to look like it could maybe be a possibility. I was like, "Am I crazy enough to think I could do this?" [Laughs.] Then they called me this summer to audition in Los Angeles, and that's how it came about.

Nicole Parker in Wicked
photo by Joan Marcus
Question: How was the rehearsal process? I know when you step into a show, you don't get all that much time.
Parker: It was fast. Luckily, I had a month or so in Los Angeles. I live about ten minutes away from the Pantages Theatre [where Wicked recently ended a lengthy run], so it was all too easy to go down there, and they were really gracious about letting me watch several times. I worked with the musical director out there. I just started getting into it. I watched it about four or five times, so I had the idea of the shape of it, [even though] every production has slight differences because the stage is different or what have you . . . but I sort of arrived here already kind of having a general shape of it. But then it was very fast. It was about two weeks. I worked with the dance captain, and it was almost like being in front of a green screen! You have to imagine everything happening: Here's where all the people are, and here's where I see the big Wizard of Oz head. It was very much like make believe because I was in a rehearsal room, trying to envision it all. But it was a really wonderful process. I like fast. I work all right with fast. In sketch [comedy] you rarely get a rehearsal and you have to go right then, so there's not a lot of time. I was okay with it. But once I got on the stage I was like, "Oh, geez, I wish I could do this on the stage a couple more times [before performing in front of an audience]."

Question: What was your first performance like in front of an audience?
Parker: It was so out-of-body. There were so many moments that were like, "Oh, my God, I'm Elphaba! I can't believe it! This is crazy! I practice this music in my car, and now I'm doing it onstage! That's so weird." And then you're like, "Oh wait, I'm acting. I'd better stop thinking in my head about things." [Laughs.] But it was a joy. There were nerves. I had adrenaline shooting through my body. It was a lot easier the second time, because I could feel my body relax. It was a lot easier to breathe. And you just expect that. The first night you run out there — and you literally do run out there — you just have to expect there's going to be some extra energy shooting though you. It can help you, and it can also hinder you, so you just have to keep it in check. But it was great. The cast has been so amazing, so gracious, so supportive, and that's made all the difference. I could see all these faces around the back supporting me, and I'm like, "Okay, I got it!" So then at that point it's just about convincing your brain you can do it. Your body and your voice have done it, but your brain is still going, "Oh, I don't know, I don't know, I don't know!"

Question: It really is one of the more vocally-demanding roles.
Parker: Really? I wouldn't say so! [Laughs.] I don't know what you're talking about!

Question: How are you finding doing the show eight times a week?
Parker: I really take it one day at a time. I have such a strict routine. I meditate and I stretch, and I drink tea, and I drink water. I wake up everyday sort of going, "Okay, I'm gonna try to keep positive." I literally take it one hour at a time, like, "Okay, meditation went well. Okay, good. Had a good lunch…" It is so funny — my life has become so regimented. And I knew it, I totally was ready for it, but it still makes me laugh how it really is totally scheduled. But it makes it easy because all I have to do is check off the list throughout the day. Check, check, check. Have I done that? Have I done that? By the time I'm warming up, I'm just sort of there. And once you get to the theatre, even if I feel a little bit of a pull or a little bit of fatigue, for some reason, once I get there I'm in a zone, and it helps to be around the energy. But it is a day-to-day thing. I can't think about Sunday right now. I'm thinking about tonight. Sunday will happen if Sunday happens, but I'm only going to think about tonight. So far it's worked for me, but I'm just knockin' on wood and taking it as it comes.

Nicole Parker in Wicked
photo by Joan Marcus
Question: How long does it take you to get into the green makeup at this point?
Parker: It only takes about 30 minutes. We blast music, and I get my little play list together, and we dance it out. It can be very fast-paced. I do my nails and I do my hands, and Jim [Cortes] comes in and we do my face. Sometimes people have notes for me. There's always business to be done. That's sort of all happening, and usually I'll look up and go, "Oh, I'm green already! How did that happen? Alright!"

Question: And, what's the process like at the end of the show to de-greenify you? How long does that take?
Parker: I come in, and I take a breath and go, "Oh, my God, I did it again. Okay, good, I'm alive!" So there's that moment. [Laughs.] The moment I realize I'm alive and I'm fine. And then I wash my hands first with this fancy wonderful peppermint soap that takes it right off your hands very quickly. So I do my hands first, then I do my lips and my eyes, and then I jump in the shower. Depending on how many other people are showering at the time, [it goes] from hot to cold, so there's times I'm like, "Waaaaah…" It's really kind of nice to get to shower after that show. It's actually exactly what I would want to do, to get into an enclosed, warm, safe-feeling place that has steam. It actually takes about 15 or 20 minutes. I just scrub heavily with a couple of different products, and then I'm out.

Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show at this point?
Parker: I have a couple. And, you know, they're going to change. My favorite moment is going to change, too. There are times when I say, "I love singing that song." And then the next day I'm like, "I do not like singing that song! That song was not my friend today. Why was that song not my friend today?" [Laughs.] So it changes. But some of my favorite parts I can't even explain why. For some reason, I really love — and not like it's so hard to understand, but it's maybe not what you would first think of — but I really love doing "Loathing" because it means that I got through "Wizard and I," so that makes me happy, and now I'm joined onstage by everyone. And I really, really like the moment where I get to be onstage with people. I love the energy, the rush of energy from "Loathing" as I'm running down the stage and the groups are coming at me and I'm chasing after them. It kind of gets me really, really warmed up into the show. This cast is so incredible, the energy they give out. I really love "Popular" because I love watching Alli [Mauzey] because she's hilarious! I love sitting . . . and knowing that now we're going to have a moment, we're going to have a scene, we're going to become friends, she's gonna be funny. . . . And I really like doing the dance — I like the "Elphaba Dance." I remember being, definitely, the awkward girl, and I like that moment because it's so triumphant, even though it's sort of sad, but at the same time it's not because you really get to see that she is an individual. There are a lot of things going on at that moment, and I enjoy all of them. That's all first-act stuff — the second act goes by so quickly. I'm sure I'll settle into it more and have more favorite moments!

Alli Mauzey and Nicole Parker in Wicked
photo by Joan Marcus
Question: How would you describe Elphaba?
Parker: The hardships that she has [endured] she doesn't regret because they've made her who she is. She's one of those people who doesn't spend much time wishing she wasn't who she is. She sort of accepts it. I think there's a part of her that while she's got this crazy thing that, in the beginning, she can't explain it, she's always known — and I think it's evident when she sings "Wizard and I" — that she's going to do something great with it. She just needed someone to say it to her. I think that because of what's happened to her, it's made her wiser beyond her years, and she's definitely over-mature for her age group. That's why she identifies with older people like Doctor Dillamond. I think she responds to adults much better. She's just one of those people. I remember — because when I did theatre as a kid, I was around adults a lot — sometimes I had that feeling. . . . . I think that's also the way she is. She's a really good girl, and I know misunderstood is the word to use, but I actually don't think she even thinks about whether she's misunderstood or not. I don't think she cares. I think that she just thinks other people just don't get it. She doesn't understand other people. It's not that she's misunderstood, she's like, "I just don't get other people." I think she's a true individual. Even though she has her insecurities, she really accepts who she is.

Question: Why do you think the musical has been so successful everywhere?
Parker: I think because it's a combination of the incredible production value — which is something that always remains with people. There are some amazing visual images that happen, but then it's not just that. On top of it, there are relationships. I think with any show, if you don't care about what happens to the people, you don't have a show. Whether it's a sitcom or a silly movie, it doesn't even matter. You have to care about the people. To me, that's what it is: People care about Elphaba, people care about Glinda, people care about Boq. You can hear it. I will listen to them and the way they react, and they're with us. They're totally with the story, so I think it is good storytelling. That is what keeps a show going on and on forever. It's not production value, it's not lighting, it's not costumes, it's not sound. And while the show has all of those elements, what it has at its core is the storytelling. I think if you look at anything that lasted a long time, you told a good story and you cared about what happened. That's what it is. It's a good story. It doesn't matter what age you are, who you are, where you're from. You're in.


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