‘Wicked’ Welcomes Pioneering Good Witch, Brittney Johnson

NEW YORK (AP) — As many people spent Valentine’s Day with the traditional flowers and chocolates, Brittney Johnson was making theater history.

The young Broadway veteran was gently brought down to the stage at the Gershwin Theater to become the first black actor to take on the role of Glinda full-time in ‘Wicked’, breaking a racial barrier on love day.

“One of the most gratifying things about all of this is that it’s not just for me. I think that’s the minimum for me,” she says. “It’s about what it means to other people, to people who are going to see me do it or to people who just know I’m there.”

Johnson is part of a fraternity of women who have recently broken boundaries on American stages, including Emilie Kouatchou, who became the first black woman to play Christine in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ on Broadway, and Morgan Bullock who became Riverdance’s first Black. dancer.

“I see things changing and I’m very optimistic about the future,” says Johnson. “Because specific conversations are starting to happen now, people’s eyes are opening in ways they never have before, either because they never needed to be, or because they just didn’t know what they didn’t know.”

“Wicked”, based on the cult novel by Gregory Maguire, tells the story of two budding young witches, one green broody who will be the Wicked Witch of the West and the other blonde and bubbly, who will be Glinda the Good Witch.

Johnson ended a 19-year streak of white actors playing Glinda in any “Wicked” professional venture, an even more powerful milestone since Glinda is the essence of goodness.

“I think it’s something that, especially for little black kids who come and feel the energy that’s given to Glinda – someone who looks like them – maybe it’s not something they live from the world in their real life,” she says. “To see someone who looks like you being loved is so important to see.”

The night the role was finally hers, Johnson’s life shattered before her – literally. As is the series’ delightful custom, the previous actor playing Glinda arranged for a note of encouragement and love – usually filled with photos of the new star – to be pinned to the inner curtain during of his first night. Every new Glinda sees it when she enters.

“It was the first time it was me. Usually I see pictures and words of encouragement from other people, and it was the first time I was left with that word,” says- her. “It’s really emotional that it’s for you.”

Lindsay Pearce, her co-star as Elphaba, says Johnson is “obviously born for this” and says she’s never seen anyone work harder. She describes Johnson as graceful, fun, and goofy.

Pearce was watching backstage on a monitor as Johnson on Valentine’s Day began singing the hit musical ‘Popular’ when she spotted a little black girl in the front row with her family, rapping in his hands of joy.

“That’s why it’s important because the theater belongs to everyone. It’s not something that only belongs to someone who looks a certain way, sounds a certain way,” she says. “Theater is supposed to be the mirror of what the world looks like, and this is what the world looks like.”

Johnson’s other Broadway credits include ‘Les Miserables’, ‘Motown the Musical’, ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ and opposite Glenn Close in ‘Sunset Boulevard’ and as a guest at Kristin Chenoweth’s concert at Broadway, teaming up with the original Glinda. She’s been connected to “Wicked” since 2018, moving from the set to Glinda’s understudy, to Glinda’s backup. She was on stage as Glinda when the pandemic closed the theater in 2020, but only temporarily.

Johnson saw out her contract and had moved to Los Angeles during the lull to pursue TV and film projects when “Wicked” lured her to Oz with the promise of full-time Glinda.

“It felt like unfinished business,” she says. “I really felt like I had more to do on this particular show. So getting that call really felt like the answer to what I thought I needed internally.

Johnson grew up in Maryland near Washington. Her mother said she sang before she spoke. “She said I’ve been a drama queen since I was a kid,” Johnson says, then laughingly adds, “I disagree.”

She was bitten by the musical comedy bug in high school. Performances in “Les Miserables” in 10th grade and “Sunday in the Park with George” in her senior year convinced her that musical theater was what she wanted to do.

“I was raised to believe and know that I could do anything,” she says. “I’m no stranger to being the first of anything or the only black person in a room or in a situation.”

What about being the first Black Glinda? Was it on his horizon? “It wasn’t out of my realm of possibility for me that I could be if the world allowed it,” she replies. “But after five, 10 years of not seeing any movement in that direction, I think you’re starting to put that specific dream aside.”

Coming out on Valentine’s Day has been a looping moment since Johnson saw ‘Wicked’ at age 15 with his mother, catching it at the Kennedy Center on tour: “I really enjoyed it. I loved the story. I loved the music.

Now Glinda’s role is hers and she can’t wait to make it hers, putting the good witch on her own. She says there’s a lot of flexibility in “Wicked” for the actors to add their personalities.

“They really encourage us in the rehearsal process to play and figure out how the character fits you. It’s not a template you have to fit into,” she says. “There are things that I discover every day about her or the role. There are things that you can only really find when you have the opportunity to do it more than once.


Marc Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

Colleen D. Ervin