Behind the Green: Get to Know Wicked’s Elphaba, Talia Suskauer
Talia Suskauer is flying high as Wicked’s Elphaba for their long-running North American tour. Just three years out of the musical theater BFA program at Penn State University, she already made her Broadway debut in the critically acclaimed musical Be More Chill before earning the role of Elphaba in September 2019. Talia has performed regionally as well, playing roles such as Princess Fiona in Shrek The Musical and Jo March in Little Women, and is the 2015 YoungArts winner in Theater Arts.
We caught up with Talia before she makes her Center debut to discuss what she’s learned from her character, how she prepares for performances, and her experience reopening the show after the COVID-19 hiatus.
What was your journey to becoming Elphaba? How many years have you been involved in Wicked?
I auditioned for Wicked in August of 2019, I was just coming off of a Broadway show that I was doing. I went in for my first edition and got a final callback for the week after that. Then I was told that I had a week to pack up my stuff and get on the road. We opened in Vegas, that's where I started in September of 2019. March 2020 is when everything shut down. I had the honor of reopening the show as Elphaba in August of 2021 and have been playing the role since then.
How would you describe Elphaba? In what ways do you relate to her?
Elphaba is fiery and fearless. She stands up for what she believes in. She stands apart from the crowd, both in the way she looks, but also in the way she acts. She is deeply loving and caring toward the people in her life that mean a lot to her. I relate to Elphaba in pretty much all of those ways. She actually inspires me to speak out more and stand up for what I believe in, even when it's really hard. It's really an honor to get to play her and learn from her every night.
When was the first time you saw Wicked and who played Elphaba then?
I went on a girls trip to New York with my mom and my sister when I was nine years old. I saw Shoshan Bean as Elphaba and Megan Hilty as Glinda. It was absolutely phenomenal. I will never forget that.
What is your favorite song/number from the show and why?
That actually changes day to day, depending on how I'm feeling. Right now it's "No Good Deed." I feel like it's an incredible turning point for Elphaba and we really get to see why and how she becomes known as the Wicked Witch of the West. This is the part of the show where she actually decides to take on the name for herself instead of a name that people have called her. It now becomes kind of an identity that she's assuming. I also just really like singing that song. It's a lot of fun to be able to tell her story.
Do you have any backstage pre-show rituals?
I warm up every night to get my voice and body warm. Then I always like to go say hi to my Glinda and give her a hug. It's important that we connect before the show to make sure we're good and that we're on the same page. I also have a box of words. They're called angel words and I shake the box every night, pick out a word and that word is my intention that I set for the show. For example, the other night I picked out the word "power" and last night I picked "honesty." It just gives me something new to think about during the show every night.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love exploring the cities that I'm in and finding the best food and coffee shops at whatever that city or town has to offer. I also love exploring nature. We're in Tucson right now, so we're hiking a lot. I love really immersing myself in whatever place that I'm in. It's a really unique thing that you get to do when you're touring that you don't usually get to do when you're stationary. You don't usually take the time to do those things, but on tour I really make sure that when I leave a city I can say that I've really kind of gotten the most out of it.
What’s your favorite tour memory?
That's hard. I've been touring for so long now. Probably reopening the show in Dallas after our year and a half long hiatus during COVID. We were the first Broadway tour to open in the country and it was an amazing opportunity to remount the show with the original creative team who came back. I will never forget the audience that first night, just the screams and tears of people who have been sitting in their homes for a year and a half with no theater at a time we needed theater the most. Both the audience and cast got to share this special moment and I will never forget that. It was such a huge honor to be in the reopening cast.
What’s the best part about taking Wicked across the country?
So many things! I love touring! I love seeing how the audience reactions change depending on where we are. I love visiting these different parts of the country and getting a chance to spread the message of this show far and wide. I think that providing Broadway shows to people who don't get a chance to come to New York and see them is a real honor. I do not take that lightly and I get messages all the time of people telling me that this was their first Broadway show. To be someone's first exposure to not only theater, but potentially Broadway is a huge opportunity.
Wicked has made its way to Segerstrom many times, why do you think people love this show so much?
The show's script has not changed since its creation almost 20 years ago which is really a testament to its power. You can take Wicked and apply it to any point in history because it's really about humanity and the way we treat each other and how we blame certain groups for problems in society. This is a thing that has been going on forever. There are other themes like friendship and love and not judging a book by its cover. These are things that don't ever go out of fashion. There's also this incredible score written by Steven Schwartz with music that is so timeless and exciting. You also have this incredible spectacle of a show with a green girl flying and a witch coming down in a bubble. You have all of these things happening that make Wicked so exciting and really a show for ages 8 to 80. Everyone loves Wicked and I personally think the show has staying power. It has for the past 20 years and it will for the next hundred to come.
You can see Talia and the rest of the touring cast of Wicked at Segerstrom Center for the Arts from February 9 to March 6, 2022.