Interview with Tony nominee Sheryl Lee Ralph
Tony nominee Sheryl Lee Ralph made Broadway history last week by becoming the first-ever black actress to take on the role of Madame Morrible in the Broadway production of Wicked. She debuted on November 1st, 2016 at the Gershwin Theatre.
Sheryl made her Broadway debut in 1980 in the short-lived musical Reggae, but went on to famously star as Deena in the 1981 Broadway premiere of Dreamgirls, earning her a Tony nomination. She was last seen on the Great White Way in Thoroughly Modern Millie from 2002 to 2003.
She has also enjoyed a successful TV careers with recurring roles on the likes of Moesha, Instant Mom, Ray Donovan, One Love, Street Gear and It's a Living.
Sheryl discusses her return to the boards, the upcoming movie adaptation and how Wicked is as relevant today as ever:
Thomas Hayden Millward: It’s been about 13 years since you were last treading the boards on Broadway with ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Was it like putting on a pair of old, comfy slippers or was it quite daunting to come back to Broadway?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: You know something – every time you come into a new Broadway musical or a play, it is a brand new experience. Doing a musical is like preparing for the Olympics. You have to train and you have to be in shape. You have to have stamina. You have to work out and you have to eat correctly. You have to take care of your body and especially your voice. You have to be prepared to give the kind of performance people need to see, when they are seeing it for the first time, even if you’re doing it for the 1000th time.
THM: What was enticing, in particular, about the role of Madame Morrible to get you to come back?
SLR: She’s absolutely fabulous! Her wardrobe is amazing! Her make-up is a work of art! Her jewellery is stunning! She is such a character, you know, she’s very uppity when she speaks. She’s very menacing. She’s the kind of evil witch you saw as a child that frightened you. But you loved her anyway and you dressed up as her for every Halloween. Ha ha ha ha ha… (Evil laugh)
THM: Did you hit the streets in your Madame Morrible costume this Halloween, Ms. Ralph?
SLR: My first performance was actually the day after Halloween, so I didn’t get to have that experience, but when I posted the pictures in costume, everybody was retweeting them because they loved them so much!
THM: 'Wicked' fans are also eagerly awaiting the 2019 movie adaptation. If you were a casting director and couldn’t cast yourself, who would you like to see playing Madame Morrible on screen?
SLR: Well, there would be no “not casting myself” because the good way to go would be to cast me in it! Part of the reason why they asked me to join this company was that they wanted to pay homage to colour-blind casting - casting a character with the proper talent. So, absolutely I would cast myself. What are you talking about?! (Laughs)
THM: So, we’ll have to watch this space for the movie adaptation then! Now, in what ways do you feel that the themes of ‘Wicked’ still reflect America today?
SLR: Oh my Gosh! There is so much! This script is so doggone relevant, you cannot believe it! Some of the lyrics at times I feel they have been picked right out of the election season. When they say: “Is he a thief or is he a thelanthrapist?” In times like these, when so many are confused, the best unifier is to give them someone to hate. And then the green girl is so smart, so talented and so prepared and the only reason they hate her and call her wicked is because she is green. Because they cannot control her, they say she’s wicked. I’m like: “Oh my God! Is this really happening?!” It’s so interesting. We listen to the lyrics sometimes and then come off stage and say: “Did you hear what you just said?” And they’re like: “Yeah I did. It’s like it’s been pulled out of the newspapers.”
THM: I also feel like the animal rights in Oz somewhat mirror the ongoing civil rights actions in this country too. It’s scarily apt.
SLR: Yes! It’s very eerie. The fact that the animals lose their voice and lose how to speak – and if you read the book ‘Wicked’ because it’s an incredible book as well – if you lose your voice and you are not heard, you end up as meat on the table. They’re gonna kill you. You’re no good if you do not speak out. It’s almost like if you don’t vote. What good are you if you don’t vote? People say that the only way to change things is to make them illegal, but somebody is still spending about 10 billion dollars in America to make sure that certain folks in this country are not able to exercise their rights because they will make a change.
THM: Could you finally sum up what our readers could expect from an afternoon or a night out at ‘Wicked,’ now that you’re in the cast?
SLR: Let me tell you! ‘Wicked’ is one of those shows that if you have seen it before, we are giving you good reason to come back and see it again. We are not just fabulous, we are “fabu-locious”! We have the magic and we invite you to come and sit in the audience and experience the ‘Morrible’ magic of ‘Wicked’ again!