History is happening on Broadway - and not just in Hamilton. "Wicked the Musical," the 4th longest-running show currently on Broadway, has cast its first person of color in the supporting role of Glinda. Since 2003, this character known and loved for being blonde has not yet been played by a non-white actress.
Brittney Johnson joined the cast as a member of the ensemble and as the understudy for Glinda on June 19th, 2018. She first floated down to stage in the iconic bubble on January 10th this year, in her 5th Broadway role (some previous credits include "Les Misérables" and "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical").
It is worth noting that although she has and will continue to play Glinda in some performances, Katie Rose Clarke (a blonde, white woman) is the principal actress in the role. Although casting a woman of color as Glinda’s understudy is great progress for diverse casting on Broadway, the next step is to cast a woman of color as the permanent Glinda rather than as a replacement. The show has featured many people of color in the leading role of Elphaba and supporting role of Fiyero during its run, but it is unknown why it took 15 years for a black Glinda to take the stage.
A huge part of Glinda’s character is that she fits the typical stereotype of Western beauty, with trademark blonde curls. Multiple songs in the show reference Glinda’s hair alone. However, being blonde and being a woman of color are not mutually exclusive by any means; Johnson still wore the blonde wig resembling that of Kristin Chenoweth (Glinda in the original 2003 cast) and every subsequent Glinda.
However, the main focus of the show is Elphaba, and her trademark green skin. Because of the unique color of her skin, she is forced to live as a “wicked” outcast. Having Glinda portrayed with non-white skin could offer an interesting alternate layer to their friendship, giving the seemingly polar opposites common ground.
This would definitely not be the first time that a person of color has played a traditionally white character on Broadway. Recently, the 2018 revival of "Carousel" featured Joshua Henry as the first black actor to play Billy Bigelow on Broadway, opposite a white love interest. Similarly, the racial difference adds another meaning to lyrics of the show. At one point, Billy says, “You wouldn’t marry anyone like me. Would you?” As a show set in 1873, an interracial marriage would be very controversial, yet it was not a part of the original storyline. As Broadway continues to adapt and become more inclusive, audiences can gain new perspectives on classic shows.
The idea of a woman of color playing a stereotypically blonde, white character is not unique to Broadway - Nobles made a similar casting decision a few years ago, in the 2015 production of Legally Blonde the Musical, starring Syra Mehdi (half Pakistani American) as a blonde Elle Woods.
The more diversity and representation that is brought to the Broadway stage, the better. Traditional stories need to be adapted to our modern world, by being told by all of the different kinds of people that enjoy them.
By Meredith, McBride, Staff Writer, March 2019