When the Broadway musical “Wicked” opens Nov. 13 in Indianapolis, it will mark the return of one of the lead actors to her home state.
Emily Behny will be back where she first developed a love for the theater and trained to do it professionally.
And in playing the eventual Wicked Witch of the East in the prequel to the “Wizard of Oz,” Behny will be performing in the show that moved her to tears as a teen.
“It was my first Broadway show, and happened to be my 18th birthday. I remember sitting in the audience, being absolutely awestruck. I was crying, I was so overwhelmed at the magic of it all,” she said.
Behny, a Warsaw native and Ball State University graduate, will star in one of the most successful musicals in American history.
She’ll portray Nessarose, the eventual Wicked Witch of the East, in this parallel re-imagining of the “Wizard of Oz” story.
Reporter Ryan Trares interviewed Behny by phone. She revealed what this opportunity means to her, how she’s preparing and how she has navigated the cutthroat world of professional theater.
The Behny File
Home: New York City
Current role: Dessarose, the eventual Wicked Witch of the East in “Wicked”
Education: Graduated from Warsaw High School in 2008; graduated with a bachelor’s degree in musical theater from Ball State University in 2010
Family: Husband, Adam
Past roles: Belle in the national tour of “Beauty and the Beast” Liesl in “The Sound of Music” at Wagon Wheel Theatre; and Hope in “Something’s Afoot” at Goodspeed Musicals
See the show
When: Nov. 13 to Dec. 1
Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays; a 2 p.m. matinee will also be held Nov. 14.
Where: Murat Theatre at Old National Centre, 502 N. New Jersey St., Indianapolis
Cost: Tickets range from $40 to $173.
Information: To buy tickets or learn more, go to indianapolis.broadway.com
With “Wicked” and the effect it had on you, what did it mean for you to audition and be part of this production?
It’s been such a blessing. As an actor, you look at certain shows and think, “That role is unreachable. Only the elite can get in there.” “Wicked” was one of those shows.
I’m really excited that I’m part of that family. And I’m excited to recreate that magic that inspired me and have the impact on young people and all audience members.
As you were getting ready for this role, is it intimidating to perform in such a well-known and well-loved musical?
Yes. It’s a cultural phenomenon. People come again and again and again.
I’ve met people who have told me they’ve seen it five times or more. People love this show.
They know the songs and love the characters. And I’m stepping into a role that has been played by so many talented actors. It’s exciting, because you can bring your own interpretation into the role.
What are some of the challenges of playing a character like Nessarose?
She’s a very complex character, and she makes a huge transformation from Act I to Act II.
It’s challenging to not make her seem one-sided, and all of those complexities are coming through, even when she’s the nice sweet sister of Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West), and her transformation in Act II. I have to make sure she’s not just one note throughout the show.
Why do you think this show has captured people’s hearts the way it has?
I think it’s a story that people can relate to. They can relate to being an outsider, like Elphaba is. They can relate to not fitting into this world around us.
What led you to the theater in the first place?
I was singing at a really young age, in choir and then in church. But my first taste of musical theater was when I was in sixth grade. I was in a production of “The King and I”; I was one of the king’s children.
Then I became heavily involved in high school theater, and that’s where I fell in love with being on stage. I started to really enjoy telling stories that needed to be told.
What inspired you to think this was something you wanted to do as a career?
There are some very specific moments in my life when I realized this was what I wanted to do. One was when I saw the production of “Wicked” in New York City on Broadway. Another was in my first professional production, “The Sound of Music” at the Wagon Wheel Theatre in Winona Lake.
I was in the middle of finals at Ball State and running to rehearsal at the same time. I remember thinking, “I would rather be in this theater than doing any other kind of work any other day.”
What have been some of your more memorable experiences on stage?
My first role out of college, it was on the “Beauty and the Beast” national tour playing Belle. It was such an iconic role, that it was memorable playing that role.
But we also got to tour through the Midwest, and I got to play Ball State. I’ll never forget that moment of playing on the stage where my love for theater was really nurtured.
Was it difficult making the transition from Indiana theater to New York theater?
Definitely. It’s a whole different ballgame. There are so many of us pursuing this, so it can be very overwhelming.
You walk into an audition, and think, ‘Wow, there are 50 people who can play this role there.’ It’s also so competitive, because there are not too many jobs out there.
What surprised you about acting in New York?
It’s so much more of a business than just the acting side of it. You audition and take classes more than you’re actually in the theater.
That also is a misconception — that we go and book something. There are a lot of ups and downs to it, a lot of down time and a lot of rejection.