The debut New Zealand season of Stephen Schwartz’s Wicked is now in full swing and AussieTheatre’s David Allen has been speaking with the cast of this thrillifying production including NZ’s stand-by Elphaba – Legally Blonde star Ali Calder – as she prepares to Defy Gravity for the very first time.
Ali Calder is a fresh young talent on the Australian music theatre scene. From a professional debut in STC’s Spring Awakening, to the role of Vivien in Legally Blonde and now to the stand-by for Elphaba in Wicked, she’s a star on the rise and definitely one to watch. With definitively strong presence on stage and powerhouse vocals, she is a natural choice to take the green – especially under the wing of Jemma Rix, one of the most popular and prolific actresses ever to take the lead in Wicked.
“We’ve had the most fantastic rehearsal period” says Ali as I talk to her.
“This cast is amazing! Everyone is really fantastic to work with – and it’s been very hard work but we’re all having a lot of fun. Wicked is so beloved now as a show that it really is an honour to be involved in it, but it’s also great that we’ve been able to work together like to create something that really is also our own.”
But what about preparing for Elphaba? The legendary leading role that won Idina Menzel a Tony and has since gone on to be redefined by a host of actresses is one that receives international attention from a devoted following of fans eager to see a new performance.
“I met with the director and the musical team for two weeks before rehearsals began and we spent that time together one on one. It truly was an amazing experience and they really have encouraged me all through the process to build my own Elphaba.”
“Elphaba is such a relate-able character and I really do love her. It really is impossible not to see something of yourself in her because she is so many things. She’s humble, stoic, so passionate in what she believes and its been amazing watching Jemma Rix in particular work. Every time I’ve seen her play the part now there is always something new and fresh about it. She just knows this character so well and can instantly just become her and is so natural in the part.”
As stand-by for Elphaba, Ali will be performing the role on the nights Jemma Rix does not take the stage. The wicked witch is a notoriously challenging role and features some of the most iconic showstoppers of all time. I ask how Ali is preparing for her debut in the part.
“At first,” she laughs, “I was insanely daunted and terrified about that. But now, I’m just kind of calm. I just want to do it – and get into that world, reach a place where I can just be Elphie and run with the role. I think that’s very important in a show as rich and vivid as Wicked.”
“The main thing that motivates me is just how excited everyone is. This is a totally new show from what everyone saw in 2008 when Wicked toured Australia, and everyone here is just so excited to get to Auckland and perform. In a way we have a lot of advantages. We get to perform with Jemma Rix who is just so dynamic, and of course Maggie Kirkpatrick who – I just can’t even begin to tell you how amazing she is. We all believe she is the best in the world at what she does. And Jay Laga’aia, who will be playing the Wizard in New Zealand – he is so into this journey and this show and its characters. It’s impossible to be surrounded by this sort of world class talent and not be inspired.”
Ali Calder began performing with the cast of Wicked at the Civic Theatre in Auckland on Tuesday, September 17.