Since its Broadway opening on Oct. 30, 2003, Wicked has won 35 major awards, including a Grammy and three Tonys. Amanda Jane Cooper plays Glinda in the show based on Gregory Maguire’s book of the same title.
The actress spoke with me this summer when I was at The Washingtonian about theater’s approach to a classic movie, how she won the part and her skills on a clarinet.
Were there any acting experiences that steered your acting ambitions?
All of my experiences accumulated into a realization that I have a knack for this. It’s absolutely what I was put on this earth to do. You know what’s funny? My freshman year in high school I was cast as a dancer in our Oklahoma! spring musical. That’s the first theater experience that I ever had where I looked around and said, ‘This is an awesome way to work.’ I didn’t even have any lines.
How did you secure the part for Glinda?
I have been dreaming of playing this role for years and years and years, ever since I first saw it when I was a sophomore in high school. Stephen Schwartz, who wrote the musical, actually went to my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon. When I was in school, he would come back and mentor us. We met that way. He is the first person who really ever said, “Oh, okay, yeah, she could play Glinda some day.” I went through six or seven auditions for this, and I heard really soon thereafter that their answer was yes, but that there were no contracts. I waited for about two months.
Have you read the original book, or Gregory Maguire’s book?
I’ve seen the movie a million times, so that was great source material. I read Wicked. It gave me so much fuel even though some plot points are different. The book offers some questions that have been fun to play with on stage. Yes, it’s in a fantasy world and there’s magic and mystical things happen, but everything is based in reality, the relationships and the politics.
Opening night in DC was June 15, your birthday. Did that element add anything to the experience?
The entire day I was forgetting it was my birthday because there was so much we had to do. We had to do soundcheck, my family was here, it was crazy busy. When I came down in the bubble, I had this moment of, ‘My gosh. What an honor to be turning 23 in the Kennedy Center, in my dream role, in this fabulous costume, surrounded by this amazing group of people.’ It was really, really special for me.
The plot of this musical centers on the relationship between Elphaba and Glinda. Have you seen this resonate with girls in the audience?
The two principal characters the story is based around are women, which is awesome, but it’s really a relationship that everyone can connect to. We have such an array of people in the audience. Not only is the story so powerful, but there’s so many layers to it.
You have special skills listed on your resumé with items such as advanced clarinet and handguns. That seems like dangerous combination.
I am a fierce shot. The first job I ever got in New York City last year was a musical called Bunked! and they actually used the fact that I’m a pretty good clarinet player. I played clarinet in the show. It’s also good for musical directors. I put that on there so they can see that I can read music.