Stephen Schwarz’ 2003 blockbuster musical “Wicked” landed at Robinson Performance Hall Wednesday night and, excepting an impromptu evacuation when someone pulled the fire alarm during opening night intermission, is bewitching sold-out crowds in Little Rock. And why wouldn’t it? The touring production of “Wicked” is armed with a shapeshifting behemoth of a set, clever nods to its godfather L. Frank Baum, a nimble and acrobatic comedic ensemble and first-rate vocal talent. (All due respect to the originator of the role, I’ll take Talia Suskauer’s rich, supple interpretation of Elphaba over Idina Menzel’s any day.) It’s deliciously dark yet suitable for young eyes and ears, and manages to tackle big ideas like herd mentality, otherization and the subjectivity of history — and it does so without condescension.
After understudying the role for years on the show’s national tour, Allison Bailey — a self-described “Southern Belle living in NYC” — began leading the tour as Glinda (the Good Witch) in September of 2019. Her Glinda is fabulously polished as a result of all that experience, countering Suskauer’s wry Elphaba with physical humor and playful vocal delivery. We caught up with Bailey a few weeks ago, where she was performing with the “Wicked” tour in St. Louis.
You’ve been involved with the role of Glinda for about four years now, if my math is right — first as an understudy, and now as the lead on the North American Tour. How many times do you imagine you’ve sung “Popular” at this point, and do you ever feel like, “Oh my God, I can’t sing this again?”
No, I really don’t! Especially with “Popular,” you find different nuances every time. So I try to make it fresh and new, and make new choices. And over the years, I’ve had different Elphabas, so I really try to make it about them, and base it off of the individual woman.
I hope that you get to hear back from folks who have seen “Wicked.” What, if anything, do you think surprises people about this particular show?
Oh, gosh. We do get a lot of messages from fans of the show. It rings so true for everyone. The universal message is of friendship; everybody has that one friend that they’re connected to on some level. So, you’ll hear somebody say, “For Good” is a song that’s really had an impact on my life. Or for people who, through middle school and high school, have felt bullied, “Wicked” really focuses on those stories through Elphaba, and how not to judge a book by its cover.
Have you watched “The Wizard of Oz” since you started performing this role, and does the story feel changed for you?
“Wizard of Oz” was such a part of my life. Like, many Halloweens as a child was I Dorothy! But believe it or not, I have not watched it since I started “Wicked.” I’m very curious to go back and see if, for myself, those plot points have changed. I’m sure it’d be very interesting.
Wow. I wonder what the childhood you, dressed as Dorothy, would think of the fact that you’re making a living in this story.
I actually have a picture from fifth grade where I dressed up as Glinda the Good Witch! It’s a full circle moment for sure.
So, the way this tour works, you’re in a town for a short while — 24 performances in our case, I think. What do you tend to look for when you’re hanging out in a town for a brief, intense stay like the ones on this tour?
It’s my favorite, because we get to stay an extended amount of time in each city, so we get to go to Little Rock for a few weeks. And I look for food — local restaurants, local coffee shops. Little juice bars are my favorite. I also look for the boutiques and the shopping; I think that’s so fun about this, is that I have these little pieces with me from cities all over the country.
I couldn’t help but notice on your resume that you list yodeling as a special talent. How did you come across it, and do you think that sort of facility that you use while yodeling is shared at all in your musical theater singing technique?
It’s funny, I grew up singing with a country band, so country music is kinda my roots. I’m from Pensacola, Fla., so I was about five miles from Alabama. I used to sing “[I Want to Be A] Cowboy’s Sweetheart” — LeAnn Rimes did a cover of it. There’s a yodel break, so that’s kind of how I learned to yodel, is through those country music roots.