For years, the Wicked Witch of the East was best known as a pair of legs with ruby slippers, crushed beneath Dorothy Gale’s house. Although it may not seem easy to bring this character to life, Stefanie Brown pulls it off flawlessly every night with a scene-stealing performance as Nessarose on the Wicked National Tour. Not only has Stefanie worn the infamous ruby slippers, but she was also previously seen gliding around in a giant bubble as Glinda the Good’s understudy. And while Stefanie may use the word “lucky” many times to describe her life in the theatre, it’s obviously her overwhelming talent, presence, and kindness that got her where she is today, and will now doubt take her far in the future.
According to your website, when you were three you stopped a big band at a resort to ask if you could sing, “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star.” Do you have any recollection of that?
I don’t! I do remember doing that a lot though as a little kid. Pretty much every home video of me has me singing in the background. Even if the camera’s not on me, you can hear little Stefanie just singing in the back.
And you were really young when you had your first stage debut in The Wizard of Oz.
Yeah, I was eight years old and in third grade. It was the kind of school play where the class makes the set and your parents make your costumes.
At what point did you realize that theatre was what you were going to go into for life?
I think it was that Wizard of Oz point where I realized I wanted to be more of an actor/singer than just a singer. My parents said I was a weird child, that I always said that’s what I wanted to do. There was never a point where I was like, “I want to be an astronaut!” It was always, “I want to be an actress.”
What kind of roles did you have while at the University of Arizona?
I was Juliet in Romeo and Juliet on the main stage, which was fun because it was something totally different than “musical theatre.” Definitely one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. I was also Cunegonde in Candide, and I feel like out of the musical theatre I’ve done, that was the show where I learned the most about myself as a performer. And my favorite role – mainly because it was with my boyfriend – was in Urinetown, where we played [leads] Hope and Bobby.
Did you move to New York immediately after college?
First I went to one of those big, joint auditions that they have around the country, and I got a summer stock job in Tennessee outside of Nashville. I did Beauty of the Beast, and Pirates of Penzance in rep, which means every night it was a different show. Then after summer was over, I picked up my bags and went to New York.
And you got involved with Wicked almost immediately.
Yeah, it was pretty crazy. Before that I actually got Hair at the Arizona Theatre Company, so I went back to Arizona, did Hair for about two and a half months, and then I got Wicked right out of that. I always say the stars just seemed to align in the way I got Wicked. The same casting director who cast Wicked also cast Hair, and so my agent set up a pre-screening when one of the casting directors was coming to see our opening night of Hair in Arizona. They sent me to New York for the final callback, and then an hour later on my way back to the airport to fly back for Hair, I got a call.
Wow, that’s the dream!
Yeah, very lucky. I remember being in the train station going to the airport and my agent called me and went, “How’d it go?” and I was like, “Oh, it went good, I thought I did my best so we’ll see,” and he was like, “Yes, ’cause you got it!” and I remember going, “Excuse me?” and I stopped mid-tracks between all these moving people and I scooted my suitcase over to a corner and started crying. It was definitely the happiest plane ride of my life.
Were you familiar with Wicked before getting the role?
I was! My senior year of high school I bought the soundtrack, and I listened to it nonstop. Anywhere I drove to, I would listen to it in my car. Then in my last semester, as a senior in high school, my parents planned a spring break trip to go to New York and see shows, and Wicked was one of them. It was one of the best theatrical experiences of my life. I was just in love at that moment.
At this point, you’ve played Glinda, Nessa, and, in a way, Dorothy. What’s it like to explore every different angle of the Wicked experience?
I feel like I got lucky with being able to do that. I got to experience the ensemble side which was amazing, and then getting to play Glinda was like a dream come true. I mean, Glinda, Elphaba, and Nessa are some of the best roles in musical theatre history for women. Glinda was fun because I got to sing operatic soprano stuff, and then contemporary belty stuff, along with being a total goof onstage. As far as Nessa – when I was originally hired I wasn’t even the understudy for her. Then through a couple of circumstances, they ended up giving me the understudy three months into my contract. The more times I went on as Nessa, I realized how much of a dynamic character she is and how fun it is to play her.
And Nessa’s the kind of character that swoops in out of nowhere to become the Wicked Witch of the East.
I know, but as soon as (SPOILER ALERT) she steps out of the chair, and you see the tights and the red shoes, everyone in the audience is like, “Oooh!”
Do you have a favorite Wicked moment?
Oh, so many! There was one time I was on for Glinda, and I was doing the famous “wand twirl” scene towards the end of the show. There’s actually two wands – one that’s with her in the bubble at the beginning which is an actual metal wand with pretty diamonds encrusted on it and one for the fight that is a plastic mock one, so when you throw it down it doesn’t get ruined. So I was twirling that one and the top of it flew off. Thank God it went back to where the backdrop is and the corn stocks are. I can’t imagine if it went into the audience. That would have been a disaster!! However Donna [Vivino], who was playing Elphaba at that performance, and I had a good laugh.
So aside from Wicked, what are some of your favorite musicals?
Well, Les Miserables is definitely up there. I’m a classical musical person at heart and I love Phantom of the Opera. Even though it got awful reviews, I really enjoyed Little Mermaid, and I also love Beauty and the Beast. I also really enjoy The Light in the Piazza. I just have so many!
What can Daily BR!NK readers do to support you?
I try to put as many updates on my website as I can. If I’m doing a local press event or if I’m singing the national anthem at a baseball game or something, I will make sure to put that in the “News/Press” pages. I also love getting feedback on my website. I have a “Contact Me” on my page where you can send me a message. I love getting messages from fans or anyone who sees the show or checks out the site, and I always try to respond.
Where is the tour off to next?
After Chicago we head to Appleton, Wisconsin, and then we go to Florida. Sunny weather, here we come!