From Arendelle to Oz, this is not Alyssa Fox and McKenzie Kurtz’s first time sharing the stage. They’re currently starring in Wicked on Broadway as Elphaba and Glinda, respectively, just ahead of the show’s 20th anniversary. The pair was last seen together in Broadway’s Frozen, with Kurtz as Anna and Fox as Elsa’s standby. In March 2020, Fox was on for Elsa for two seemingly normal shows. But she and Kurtz were unknowingly leading Frozen’s final performances—the show closed March 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, as they lead audiences to the Emerald City every night, Kurtz and Fox have gotten a chance to reconnect. As one woman speaks, the other watches with visible pride. When asked about Frozen, they are each beaming. ”Do you want me to tell it?” Kurtz asks her costar.
“Tell it, tell it!” Fox cheers.
“We found out that [Frozen] wouldn’t be coming back, as other Broadway shows were coming back, which was devastating,” Kurtz says. “But then to get this piece of [Wicked casting] news was just, oh my gosh—” she pauses to laugh, almost in disbelief. “How full circle and serendipitous can we get with this? Working with [Fox] is a total dream come true.”
Fox agrees wholeheartedly. “It’s been so exciting to get to know McKenzie. Because in Frozen, it was only about a month, maybe two months, that you were there," she says to her costar. "But now to pick that up, and get to know McKenzie better, has been really, really cool.”
While this is her first time performing with Kurtz’s Glinda, Fox is no stranger to green face paint. She has played the role of Elphaba as a standby on Broadway from 2016 to 2017, in the national tour, and as an understudy in the San Francisco company. “It was 13 years of me working toward [Broadway]. I relate to the role of Elphaba so much, it lives inside of me,” Fox says, who adds that she relates to Elphaba's sense of ambition. "The arc that Elphaba has of being told one thing and [thinking], ’If you do all these things, then this will come to fruition'...It kind of reflects in my journey with the show.”
For her part, Kurtz is new to the Emerald City. But she says Glinda has been a dream role since she was a little girl. She recently shared a photo of her posing in front of the Gershwin Theatre at age nine, followed by a more recent shot, where Kurtz wears Glinda's glimmering blue dress in the posters outside the theatre. She says when she sat down with her agent and manager for the first time, Glinda was a goal at the top of her list. Now, Kurtz’s excitement to finally be taking on the role is palpable.
“I’m definitely a girl’s girl—a girl’s girl and a girly girl. I love all the glitter, I love all the fabulousness,” Kurtz exclaims. “So all the costumes and everything that Glinda gets to wear are so fun to me. But I think the journey she goes on is something I can relate to as well, how she’s matured. She comes to support Elphaba, and they form this wonderful bond.”
The pair says they’ve drawn on experience like playing Anna and Elsa (or for Kurtz, growing up with a younger sister), to emphasize the female friendship at the heart of Wicked. It is evident that their own friendship helps to tell the story as well: each of them can’t help but rave about the other’s performance.
“[Fox] is so incredibly deserving,” Kurtz says of her stage partner’s long journey with the show. “I’m constantly in awe, she just kills it every night.”
And Fox won’t let her friend go without praise. “McKenzie is so creative,” she exclaims. “It’s so exciting to work with somebody who takes things moment by moment and makes it [her] own.”
The competitive relationship between their respective characters in the show’s first act is a stark contrast to Fox and Kurtz’s real-life friendship. The significance of Elphaba and Glinda’s development, and the greater implications for women, are not lost on the actors.
“In this society, we tend to pit women against each other, and have this sense of competition,” Fox says. “I feel like at the beginning of the show, there’s a lot of jealousy involved with Glinda and Elphaba, and they come to realize that they have more in common than they initially thought.” This may be precisely the reason for the show’s years of success—the message of unlikely connection between the two leading characters resonates with audiences, who can find themselves and their friends reflected in the story.
For the stars of such a long-running and beloved show, the pressure is on to bring a fresh perspective to their roles. Both Kurtz and Fox say they strive to continue Wicked’s legacy, and to give an authentic performance every night.
“When ‘Defying Gravity’ happens, it's this turning point for me. Personally, I find something new every night, and it inspires me as Alyssa, as the actor,” Fox says. “Because Elphaba finds her power, and that gives me, Alyssa, permission to also find my power in that same way. What a beautiful thing to get to do every night, [to] really go through that full arc of a whole lifetime.”
Just as Fox experiences a turning point as Elphaba, the two actors find a gratifying progression in her relationship with Glinda. “It’s so incredible to have two female characters who go through that full arc of really hating each other, and then by the end feeling this deep connection of, ‘You’ve changed my life, and you’re so different from me, and will always be so different from me,’” Fox says, with Kurtz nodding in agreement. “It’s just a beautiful expression of female friendship in a very nuanced way.”
“Absolutely,” Kurtz chimes in. “A great part of [Wicked is] the crazy belting numbers, and flying, and beautiful costumes, and a giant spectacle of a show. But at the core of it, it’s really about this relationship between these two women and the bond that they form, the love that they share, and how they grow and evolve.”