Behind the scenes with a Broadway witch

It was Felicia Ricci’s ’08 first day as a standby for the role of Elphaba, the not-so-wicked Wicked Witch of the West, in the San Francisco production of the Broadway musical “Wicked.”

She was watching the show from the audience and listened as the woman playing Elphaba sang her first big number, “The Wizard and I,” and could tell something waas off. The actress had not held the note at the end of the song as long as she usually did. It was just then that Ricci got a text message from the stage manager who asked her to go backstage. In about 15 minutes her skin was painted green, she put on her costume, and at one point when the actress playing Elphaba ran offstage, Ricci ran on.

Felicia Ricci ’08 shows off her wicked side getting into makeup before a performance.
Marshall Roy
Felicia Ricci ’08 shows off her wicked side getting into makeup before a performance.

Ricci, who started out in the company as an ensemble member and understudy for Elphaba, went onstage four other times that week, performing the show in its entirety. The starlet took time to talk to the News about being a standby, her plans for the future and going green.

Q. What is being a standby like?

A. It’s bittersweet. I mean it’s a really fun gig in the sense that the Glinda standby and I share a dressing room and we have really good times and it’s really nice to have downtime and come to work and do whatever you want — whether that’s read a book or write your blog. But sometimes we’ll lament we’ll say, ‘Oh, you know we get into this business because we like to perform and it’s kind of sad when you don’t get to go on.’ You have to be in a different headspace when you are the standby, just know that your job is important and try to stay positive about it and not let the long stretches of waiting get to you. When you do go on its really great and you feel really lucky.

Q. What is your ultimately goal in terms of acting and singing and doing Broadway shows?

A. You kind of get wrapped up in “Wicked” and it’s sort of strange to think of life outside of “Wicked” especially because we are not in New York City, where you are exposed more to a variety of shows. I would definitely like to continue doing musical theater. [This role] is challenging vocally and it’s such a huge role. It’s encouraged me to really go for it once I’m done and when I go back to New York I want to continue to audition and just try hard. I would love to make my Broadway debut at some point.

Q. What is the process of becoming green for the show?

A. The process begins with putting foundation on your face. It’s basically a water-based paint. It’s kind of like a regular makeup or foundation, but it’s green. The makeup designer does your makeup for you. It’s basically a huge brush and they do this one coat of broad strokes across your face and your neck. And you don’t paint anywhere except your face, your neck, the back of your neck and your hands and a little bit of your forearms because there is a scene where Elphaba has her arms exposed, but it’s actually a green leotard so you don’t have to paint your arms, which is good. Basically, it’s this one coat of green and then highlight green and then all the shading is done with purple. There’s a makeup change between act one and act two as well. You keep the green but they retouch it and they add false eyelashes and more defined cheekbones to make Elphaba look more aged and kind of more sophisticated in act two.

Q. Is it uncomfortable?

A. It’s actually not so bad. The first time I was made up it felt kind of hot onstage but you really get used to it because it doesn’t rub off and it’s really set on there. You eventually kind of forget it’s there. The leotard is a little uncomfortable and in act one Elphaba wears wool. That’s a little bit challenging.

Q. What is your favorite moment to perform in “Wicked?”

A. It’s definitely “Defying Gravity.” It’s really memorable and it’s just so empowering to perform. A lot of my favorite moments are rooted in the friendship between Glinda and Elphaba.

Q. What it is like going up in the levitator at the end of that song?

A. It’s awesome. It’s really just as good as you’d imagine.

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