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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Actress no longer green with envy now that she's donned the black hat of Wicked's Elphaba

Posted: 08/19/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 08/22/2014 2:27 PM | Updates

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This time, it is much easier being green for Laurel Harris.

In 2011, when the North American tour of the musical Wicked debuted in Winnipeg, the North Carolina native was the understudy for Elphaba, the misunderstood emerald-hued girl, but never got a chance to don the famous pointy black hat here.

The yellow brick road has brought Wicked back to the Centennial Concert Hall for a Aug. 20-30 run, with the 29-year-old performer flying high aboard the broomstick of the future Wicked Witch of the West.

Her patience has been rewarded -- she has seen Wicked more than 1,000 times -- with more greenbacks in pay, her own dressing room and nicer hotel rooms.

"The biggest perk is getting to do this incredible role," says Harris, over the phone from Calgary. "It took me three years with Wicked to get where I wanted to be.

"People ask whether I'm sick of the show yet and I'm not. I still feel like it's my first week, just because this role means so much to me and I've been wanting it for so long."

Last fall, the smash prequel to The Wizard of Oz celebrated its 10th year on Broadway, where its ranks 11th on the long-runner list with over 4,470 performances. More importantly for Harris is that the two actresses -- Anne Brummel and Christine Dwyer -- who were ahead of her on the Elphie depth chart in Winnipeg, are now performing the green role on the Great White Way.

"I have been following in Christine's footsteps, from ensemble to understudy to standby," says Harris. "I've paid my dues. It gives me hope that there is a future for me in New York City with this role."

Based on Gregory Maguire's revisionist 1995 novel, Wicked goes back in time before the events of L. Frank Baum's beloved 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz to fill us in on Elphaba's untold story. The show re-imagines Elphaba (a phonetic take on Baum's initials) as a green-faced girl blessed and cursed with magical powers. At school she meets and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Glinda, a shallow, beautiful princess, who turns into the Good Witch of the North.

Harris saw the original 2003 Broadway production with breakout star Idina Menzel as Elphaba and first felt the itch for the part.

"She is such an iconic character and empowering figure," she says. "You want to be the green one; I mean, come on, it's much more exciting. It's so different and cool."

It takes the New York City-based performer 30 minutes in the makeup chair to become the verdant-coloured character. The greenification is a big part of Harris getting under the skin of her outcast character, who is not made up to look like the typical ugly crone with a long chin and pointy nose. Elphie is beautiful, but no one can get past the fact she is green.

 

Her arms, back, chest and face are painted with landscape green makeup by MAC Pro Chromocake, over which a setting powder is applied to ensure it lasts throughout the three-hour show... and often longer.

"I constantly have green in my hairline," she says. "It's on my pillowcases, on my sheets and on my towels. I have green in my ears, in my nose and eyes. It's everywhere. I get it off my face pretty well but I always have a halo, my green halo."

It matches her green eyes. Harris used to wear a lot of green clothes to complement them, but her Elphaba run has prompted her to expand her colour palette to more purples.

"My eyes absorb the colour of the makeup around them," says the University of Michigan graduate. "I freak out people who say I look like a snake."

One of the surprising side effects of being Elphaba is the way the role generates feelings of being an outcast. The witch is a social pariah, not because she is ugly, but because of the colour of her skin. Harris gets to feel what it's like to be in a different body.

"It can be a very isolating part," she says. "It really opens your eyes to how it must be for those who don't look like the majority of people. I have to make sure I get out and visit the cast onstage before the show and see them outside of work, so I don't feel I have no friends."

It brings back unhappy memories for her of being in school, days when she was a loner who ate lunch in the washroom to avoid any public shaming.

"Absolutely, I've felt like Elphaba," says Harris. "I think everyone at some point in their life has felt completely alone, whether as children or adults. People can relate to that feeling, and they gravitate to Elphaba and want to see her succeed."

Her big moment comes at the end of Act 1, when Elphaba lets loose with her signature song, Defying Gravity, while she's lifted aloft amid a swirl of stage smoke. Harris is also soaring these days about her impending wedding day in North Carolina. In October, she will be marrying her high school sweetheart Rob Marnell, who appeared in The Four Seasons' bio-musical Jersey Boys in Las Vegas and in this year's Clint Eastwood movie version.

"My makeup artist keeps telling me I'm going to have to work out every day of the week before the wedding, to sweat out the green so it doesn't get on my dress," she says. "There won't be a green dress."

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 19, 2014 D1

History

Updated on Tuesday, August 19, 2014 at 7:30 AM CDT: Adds video, replaces photo, changes headline

9:23 AM: Corrects dates of show's run

August 22, 2014 at 2:27 PM: Adds video

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