'Wicked' witch has a story to tell

10:04 AM, Apr 03, 2013

Jennifer DiNoia, who plays Elphaba in the production of Wicked playing in Rochester, says her character's story resonates amid talk about the damage done by bullying and how judging people based on appearances can hurt them 'quite deeply. ' (JUHO SIM)/


Written By David McGroarty-Manley

Wicked

When: 7:30 p.m. April 4, 9 and 10; 8 p.m. April 5; 2 and 8 p.m. April 6; 1 and 6:30 p.m. April 7; performances run through April 21.
Where: Auditorium Theatre, 885 E. Main St.
Tickets: $37.50 to $132.50. (800) 745-3000 or go to ticketmaster.com.

Connecticut native Jennifer DiNoia earned the opportunity of a lifetime when she was cast as Elphaba in Wicked, the Tony Award-winning musical onstage at the Auditorium Theatre through April 21.

We talked with DiNoia about her Wicked character, pre-performance rituals and and more.

Question: When did you first begin acting and singing?

Answer: I started singing and dancing when I was really young. I grew up actually as a dancer doing break-dance competitions and training at a ballet and dance studio in Connecticut, right near my hometown. My first professional show was for a national tour of The King and I. I actually turned 7 while I was doing it, and I kind of knew right then and there that this was what I wanted to do, so I just continued dancing and taking voice lessons. My first actual professional show that lasted for two-and-a-half years was Mamma Mia! on tour.

Q: What was it that initially drew you to theater performing?

A: My uncle was a performer when I was young, and so I was exposed to a lot of shows when I was younger. I love that whole magical sense of being taken away to another place for two and a half hours. Like any other performer will tell you, that rush of being onstage is just as magical as sitting and watching it. You, as the performer, get to take that journey every night and become another person and hopefully bring the people who are watching on this magical journey with you. I think that’s what drew me to becoming a performer. I like to entertain — of course — I like to try and touch people in a nice way.

Q: You’ve played in the production of Wicked quite a few times — five companies now, to be exact. What keeps drawing you back to this production? What do you think it is exactly that makes this production so exceptional?

A: Well, that’s a tough question because, from the moment I heard the original recording of this show, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I have to be in this show — just a part of it, in any way possible!’ I remember I was on tour with Mamma Mia! and I was just blown away by the entire company and just how clever the show was, in general.

I feel like Elphaba’s message is so current right now — not judging a book by its cover — and it’s beautiful to see two women have such a meaningful relationship. I love the show so much, I feel very close to it, which is the reason why I continue to perform in it and be in it. Every night is different, and to take that journey and have audiences who love it so much is so rewarding in so many ways.

Q: Elphaba is seen as the main antagonist. In what ways do you think Elphaba is a much deeper character than the antagonist, the Wicked Witch of the West?

A: Well, it just goes to show that you really can’t look at a person and judge them right off the bat just by the way that they look or anything else. Elphaba is green, so it’s obviously not the norm for the rest of the students. She comes into this part of her life where she’s so hopeful for the future and for the things that she can do, because she’s a smart, well-read young girl who’s just ready to conquer the world. She gets pushed aside and made fun of and all of these things that are so relevant right now with bullying and with just being very ignorant to the fact that you can actually hurt somebody quite deeply if you don’t give them a chance. She’s just such a strong girl, and to fight these demons is very difficult for her.

Q: Do you have any pre-show rituals you go through to get your mindset right to perform night after night?

A: Yeah, I do. Aside from a 45-minute vocal warmup that I do, I stretch and get my body ready to go through the two and a half hours of a crazy show. I also have my own little rituals like one thing I do before every show is I kiss my hand and then I touch the stage and I just say a little message to myself. It’s just something to get me up and going, and it’s something I’ve always done and I’ll never stop doing it.

It’s something that resets my head because, even though I’ve been doing this show for so long, I still get nervous and I still want to do my best every single night, so doing that kind of thing, along with the warmup and drinking lots of water and tea, helps.

Q: Have you been to Rochester before? And, while you’re here, is there anything you have planned to see?

A: I have not. It will be my first trip. And yeah, I will have my puppy (a Catahoula leopard dog) with me on tour so I’m hoping to get to a couple of the parks to get her running around. I actually wrote down a few things. I’d like to go to a couple of the museums — I love museums. I love seeing different art galleries and I love history. So, I’d like to see the George Eastman House … the Memorial Art Gallery, the Susan B. Anthony house and then there’s a zoo.

I’ve done this with all the other cities that I’ve been to just because I love getting to know a city, even though I’m only there for three weeks. So it’ll be nice to get around and kind of see what the city has to offer.

Q: After Wicked, what’s next for you?

A: OK, well, obviously, I don’t know at this point, but I want to go back to New York and be on Broadway again. I want to create a role on a new Broadway show. That’s my next goal is to start from reading into pre-production and rehearsal and creating with a group of people and have an opening night on Broadway and perform at the Tony’s — all the things that come along with being in a brand new show. That is my next goal. I take a lot of pride in what I do and I just love it so much.