Brittney Johnson on how playing Glinda in 'Wicked' has changed her for good
In 2022, Johnson became the first Black actress to star as the Good Witch on Broadway, and she departs the production at the Gershwin Theatre on February 12.
Anyone familiar with Wicked or its source material, The Wizard of Oz, knows what to expect from Glinda the Good Witch. Bubbliness, cheer, and, well, goodness, all of which also describe the current actress in the role, Brittney Johnson. She lives up to her social media handle, @sunnybrittney, and the trending hashtag #BrittneyTheGood, with a bright playfulness in her voice that all but burst through the phone from the first moments of this interview.
But Johnson's run as Glinda is defined by defying audience expectations. She first joined Wicked as a Glinda understudy in 2018, and in February of last year, she became the first Black actress to play Glinda full-time in Wicked's near-20-year history.
On February 12, Johnson's journey will come to a close. But who can say that the show's been changed for the better since Johnson came aboard? Just ask the many Wicked fans — some veteran, some newly minted — who have seen her perform.
"I've been really blessed to hear from so many people," she said. "The fan mail that comes in, the emails I get, the social media messages — from parents, from artists and even non-artists, people who are inspired by my story or have come to see the show and talked about how they saw the character in a whole new way."
Many think of Wicked as the backstory of Elphaba, the misunderstood girl who becomes the Wicked Witch of the West. But Glinda's own transformation is just as crucial to the story. She matures from a privileged airhead into a world-wise leader, but she must deal with her heartbreaks and mistakes in private to keep up the Good Witch facade. Johnson mines all those nuances and more.
"[For some] it's the first time they really cared about Glinda — I've gotten that a lot, actually," Johnson continued. "It just forces you to look at her because it's different than what you've seen for the last 20 years."
As Johnson prepares to exit the show, she sat with New York Theatre Guide to look back on her journey as Glinda, how Wicked has changed her, and why the musical remains so popular with fans after all this time.
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How are you feeling about ending this chapter of your career?
That is a big question. How am I feeling? I'm feeling excited for what's next. I'm feeling nervous about leaving something that has been my constant and my home. It's going to be a big change for me, just moving into the unknown.
The great thing about theatre — and what's been so wonderful about Wicked, especially with all of the craziness we have all experienced over the last couple years — is you always know what's going to happen. The show is always the same. No matter what happens in your life and what happened to you that day, you can go to the show, and you know how it's going to end. That consistency and that heart is something I have looked forward to every day.
Your casting was huge for representation on stage. What does that mean to you?
It was just an exciting opportunity to play a character I have always loved and admired, to sing iconic songs I have listened to for a lot of my life. The history-making part was added on top. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to open the door, so now, we can just move forward as if it's the new norm.
How do you hope this opens up more opportunities for you and for others?
I certainly hope not to be the last [Black actress to play Glinda]! I hope it opens up lots of opportunities for me and for anyone else that wants to play this role or any other role no one like them has ever played before. I hope that encourages other artists to know that just because nobody like you has ever done something before doesn't mean it's impossible, and it encourages people on the other side of the table to think that way as well. What can be added to our production, to our business, if we allow some other voices?
Have you had any memorable interactions with people inspired by your performance?
I've had a couple [of] parents reach out to me and say I was their daughter's first Glinda on Broadway, or they went and saw it on tour and my Glinda stuck out to them.
Most shows you don't get to see over the span of your lifetime. You never really forget your first one. And me being the the first Black woman to do it — being the first of a kind — and then the first experience of someone, is such a cool confluence of firsts.
Being able to be anybody's first experience in theatre, and then they're wanting to continue along that journey, makes me feel great. [It] means I didn't mess it up for them.
You said some people suddenly cared about Glinda after seeing you. Why do you think that is?
I don't know. I would never say my Glinda is better than anybody else's Glinda. People come in with a way they expect Glinda to be, and automatically when I come down and look different than all the other Glindas have been, you pay attention. We all bring our personalities and our histories and our life stories and our own forms of humor to the character.
What do you admire most about Glinda? Has that changed since you first started playing her?
What's so great about Glinda, she is a character that does change and grow and learn from her own mistakes and has to deal with the consequences of her own actions within the show. For people that get a chance to play Glinda, she changes as we get older, as we have more experiences, as we experience more heartbreak.
Nothing she goes through is surface. That might be something that's different about my Glinda: I couldn't rely on the dumb blonde trope. That's not something my Glinda has. I had to dig a little bit deeper to find the comedy, even. I couldn't rely on some of the things I knew would make people laugh in other circumstances. It gave me an opportunity to discover a little bit more of what is really honest about her and show a little bit more of her vulnerability and her naiveté.
Do you have a favorite moment to perform in Wicked? Has that changed?
You know, that is the one thing that has never changed. "Thank Goodness" is my very favorite song to perform. It's at the top of Act 2. Everything about that song, even down to what I'm wearing, is just so perfect. It's one of those songs where you can really disappear into it and just ask the questions in real time of yourself. It's one of those songs that you don't have to work to be present in. As I have grown in this character, as a human, my understanding of that song has really changed. It's perfectly written, and it's a real pleasure to sing.
What's the biggest lesson you're taking away from your time at Wicked?
I'm taking with me the permission to ask questions of things I thought I knew the answer to. Whether that is in a character or life in general, we're allowed to change. Glinda certainly changes. As I have grown and changed, or as I've watched my portrayal of Glinda change, it's a reminder to me in real life that it's okay to grow. Sometimes that growth makes things more beautiful and more life-changing for yourself or for other people.
When was the last time you saw Wicked on Broadway?
The last time I saw it was when Broadway reopened. I got to watch it from the audience because I was a standby, so I got to be a part of the magic from both sides — knowing I was a part of the show, and I got to sit in the audience and feel all the energy from the audience. We were all just weeping.
Will you be going back?
Yes, I will. I don't know when, but I will. Hopefully I'll be able to go back for the 20th anniversary.
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This conversation has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
Top image credit: Brittney Johnson. (Photo by Emilio Madrid)
Originally published on