Exclusive Interview: Tory Ross

Today, we’re excited to share an exclusive interview with Tory Ross. Ms. Ross is in the ensemble of the 2nd National Tour, where she portrays the Midwife and understudies Madame Morrible. Previously, she has been in the ensemble and understudied the role of Judy Bernly in the Broadway production of “9 to 5”. Check out what she has to say below!

What was your first professional acting job? What did you learn from the experience?

My first taste of professional theatre was playing the bratty kid (type casting) in the play Wait Until Dark at a small professional theater in the middle of the white mountains in NH, where i was born.  I guess my mom’s best friend saw an ad for the audition in the local paper and thought it might be a good outlet for me as they could never get me to stop talking at school and home.  My parents used to call me motor-mouth.

I got my card doing summerstock at Pittsburgh CLO during college.  It’s crazy now when I think back to the people who i worked with that summer who have subsequently become friends.  For instance, I played Dinah to Sutton Foster’s Nellie Forbush in South Pacific and we are now members of the same broadway ladies book club and live on the same street in NY.  Small world, no?

What was your audition process like for “Wicked”?

I actually auditioned for wicked years ago after first moving to the city… but for the Shen-Shen/Morrible understudy track on Broadway.  I didn’t get it… that dance combination was terrifying!  Actually, Galen Gilliland got it… and i later did 9 to 5 with her!  They put me in the Shen-Shen file and inquired about my availability once a couple of years ago, but i was busy at the time.  Then, when Jenn Furman put her notice in 9 months ago, I had just finished working with Joe Mantello, Stephen Oremus and Craig Burns at Telsey Casting and they knew I was available, so they just called me!  How cool is that?!

Tory Ross as The Midwife

How did you react when you found you’d gotten the job? Who was the first person you told, and how did he/she react?

I got the call from my agent when i was packed into the backseat of Gordon Greenberg’s car with all the writers of the musical Band Geeks en route to the Norma Terrace theater at Goodspeed in CT.  It was completely shocking and thrilling and flattering!  I told them I was heading into some major rewrites that morning as I was there assisting both Gordon and Denis Jones, the choreographer, then I had to ignore my phone for the next four hours because we were trying to put all the rewrites together before the cast got to the theater for rehearsal.  When we finally got the the lunch break, I had messages and texts from everyone asking what was taking me so long to accept the offer!  The first person I talked to was Denis.  We couldn’t really remember who the midwife was, but we did have a memory of the green baby, so we kept walking around all day, pretending to hold a baby saying in a cockney accent, “m’lady, your baby is green as a pea!”  In cockney, it was more like, “groin as a poi!”

How would you describe the character of Madame Morrible? Do you think she’s genuinely evil?

Is Madame Morrible genuinely evil?  I don’t believe you can ever cast that sort of statement on someone you are playing, unless you are a playing someone who hates themselves, which certainly isn’t the m’lady!  Morrible wants power and her ticket there is Elphaba.  I think the her betrayal can be incredibly devestating the the more friendly and endearing you play her at the beginning.  Madame Morrible is the only person who talks to Elphaba with any sort of kindness before that whole Ozdust debacle.  So, I guess the real question is, how far would you go to get what you want?

Tory Ross at her Madame Morrible Put-In

Tory Ross at her Madame Morrible Put-In

What is your favorite thing about playing Madame Morrible? What about your ensemble role?

Eee!  Tough question.  I love playing the journey of Madame Morrible.  I love dressing up and becoming that lady the moment I put the clothes and makeup on.  You walk differently.  She is, essentially, a sorcerous, which is incredibly fun to play.  My favorite part of my track is singing “loathing” backstage.  My Shiz persona, the teacher Mrs. Probert (as named by Lesley McKinnell and Kevin Jordan) doesn’t get to sing onstage in “what is this feeling,” but she hates Elphaba too.  A lot!

What has been the most memorable blooper you have witnessed – or perhaps been involved in?

Another toughie because that baby is tough to grip with those hoof hands.  Also, every witches’ mother has her own way of birthing, which can cause a lot of giggles and unpublishable blooper reels.

What was the audition process for Wicked like?

Blissful!  Apparently, i am now “offer-only!”  Ha!

Had you seen Wicked before you originally auditioned for the show?

I saw it in previews and remembering being disappointed only that it wasn’t more like the novel, which i thought was a sort of communist manifesto when i read it in high school.  My mom gave me the book when I played the Wicked Witch/Miss Gulch in Wizard of Oz in high school.  Tyler Maynard played the Scarecrow in that production!  I saw it again when my friend Lindsay K. Northen started in the ensemble as I helped her get the audition and then she booked it and thanked me in the program, which is pretty cool.  I got to see one of my best friends, Kathy Fitzgerald, play Madame Morrible the week before i joined the tour, which was HILARIOUS.  I still can’t quite master her bustle-bit.

Tory Ross's headshot for her One-Woman Show "Lucky Strike"

Tory Ross's headshot for her One-Woman Show "Lucky Strike"

What were the rehearsal processes for your ensemble role and Madame Morrible like? Was there much of a difference between the two?

I arrived in Milwaukee on a Tuesday and basically learned the track in a four hour rehearsal on Thursday.  I had my put-in about a week later and then a week AFTER THAT, i started on opening night of minneapolis.  I’ve never really been put in a show before, so i was completely dependent on our dance department and they were amazing.  The put-in went really fast, as I’m not in that much of the show in my regular track, but everyone will never let me forget that I forgot to say “good fortune witch hunters” at the top of that number.  Soooo, we had to stop and go back.  I figured it was a my-bad when there was a lot of silence!

My Morrible process was more habidaschery-esque.  I did a read-through with then-PSM Bryan Landrine who explained why certain scenes were the way they were and what was important and what was unimportant.  Then, about two weeks after that, i had a 2 hour rehearsal where i was given all the blocking and then i had a rehearsal or two with some of the understudies…. and then the put-in.  I’ve only gotten to do the part about 6 or 7 times, but it is a complete and total blast.  The first time was not planned and I returned from a jog in Madison having missed a couple of calls from stage management.  I freaked OUT, jumped in the shower, drove to the shower, did the show and never stopped sweating.  That purple makeup was pretty blotchy that night!

Tory Ross's Patch Robe

Tory Ross's Patch Robe

What, for you, are the pros and cons of touring? Do you have time to go sight-seeing in each city?

Touring is the most devastating and wonderful experience.  It’s completely devastating putting your life on hold, not seeing relatives on holidays, and never knowing where you are where you wake up, but, the flip-side is that you really get paid to see America.  It always shocks me how different every community we play is: the economy, the people, the politics, the food, the scenery, the weather, the vibe.  I love to blend in and experience the local culture.  I also try to pick up a pressed-penny and a patch for my show robe in each city, so that brings me on adventures.

Which of your costumes in the show is your favorite?

Speaking of patches, i spend most of the night in my show robe, which has maybe become my favorite wardrobe piece of all-time. Don’t get me wrong… the goat outfit is comfy (plus the leg-warmers are unexpected and fabulous and wooly), but I bought a grey cotton cover-up at target in Minneapolis to sing backstage in and started collecting patches from each city.  It’s REALLY turning into an artistic homage to the gypsy robe.

The Back of Tory Ross's Patch Robe

The Back of Tory Ross's Patch Robe

Could you ever see yourself playing any of the other leading ladies in “Wicked”? We know that as an understudy for Judy in “9-to-5”, belting chops were a must…could Elphaba be in your future?

Hahahahahahahahahahahaha!  Maybe you guys could start a write-in campaign!

Are there any dream roles you’d like to portray one day?

Gosh, I dunno.  I’ve always wanted to play Katherina in Taming of the Shrew, Oolie in City of Angels, the Baker’s Wife in Into the woods… I know that a Beaches musical is in development… I have to say that I have been really lucky to have gotten to work on new musicals.  For me, there is nothing like the rush of being in the room while a new musical is being put together.  It can be an incredibly collaborative and synergetic experience.  9 to 5, though short-lived was an unforgettable experience.

What advice would you give to aspiring performers?

Eek.  I would say, know yourself.  Know your strengths and flaunt them.  Know your weakness’ and strengthen them.  Never be afraid to look in the mirror with both love and a critical eye.  Too deep?  Too much?

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