Today we are thrilled to share an exclusive interview with Rondi Reed. Ms. Reed originated the role of Madame Morrible in the Chicago production, and has been playing the role for over a year on Broadway. In addition, she won a Tony Award in 2008 for her portrayal of Mattie Fae in “August: Osage County.” Check out her interview below.
When did you first know that you wanted to be in theatre?
I was in second grade (I think) and we were doing an operetta of JOHNNY APPLESEED at school…if you wanted to be in the front row you had to have a pioneer bonnet….I went home and told my mom who said she had no idea where she would come up with a bonnet….I went into my younger sister’s closet and dug out her Easter coat, with matching bonnet, jammed it on my head, knew it would work and took it to school. I was in the front row of JOHNNY APPLESEED as a pioneer woman, and the rest is history.
What was your first professional acting job?
I guess after college it was in MPLS. at THEATRE IN THE ROUND (a very reputable community theatre there) I was directed by Emily Mann (check her bio ! ) who was still a student director and getting ready to be the first woman director at the GUTHRIE…a play called THE ROADS IN GERMANY by Charles Nolte. Later I moved to Chicago to join Steppenwolf Theater and did my first season in 1979.
Had you seen Wicked prior to being cast? If so, who did you see?
I had not seen WKD, never heard the music, knew ZERO about it…..NOTHING. I called my friend in LA who had taken her daughters to see it with the original cast, including Carole Shelley who my friend did a fairly good impersonation of when I asked who Madame Morrible was.
Did you audition for Wicked? If so, what was that process like?
Yes I auditioned for WKD in Chicago, a raw, freezing sleet.snow kind of day in a dance studio down town. I sang her intro stuff and did a scene I think. I thought I did terrible. The next day I got a message to come to NYC for a callback.
What is your favorite part of the show to perform?
Hmmm…. I love it all really, it is such a great character who makes things happen in OZ, including some perilous weather. I also love to take a turn to the darker side in ACT 2….and I get to sing just enough and wear fabulous costumes and wigs. And have PJ Benjamin as my WIZARD….love him.
Do you have a favorite costume?
Favorite Costume is hard, they are all so great, but I am slightly partial to my First Act costume, I always feel like I am in a HARRY POTTER movie when I wear it, and this set of costumes was made for me in London while I was there doing AUGUST, so it makes them extra special. The one I refer to is the Burgundy Victorian one with the dripping kimono-like sleeves, and gold silk bustle in the back. A corset is built into the dress itself, and I wear a custom-made corset underneath as well to give me a waspish waist. I actually wear it the longest of any of my outfits.
What was it like to come back to Wicked after doing August: Osage County?
I have now been doing these two shows alternating for nearly 5 years and I have loved every bit of it. To have a chance as an actor to do this is unheard of really…the two worlds , the roles, the type of productions, could not be more different. As a side note, last summer I got a call to do the last performance of AUGUST since Liz Ashley was sick…I told people it could never happen, but I called my WKD producer , David Stone who told me to go ahead, close AUGUST, at the matinee, then come up to the GERSHWIN and do the ACTOR”S FUND performance of WKD that night. And I did and it was amazing…..true story that made the NYT blog.
Have you noticed a different between doing it Chicago and on Broadway?
Broadway is Broadway, it is a fact. It is the Flagship store as we call it. It takes nothing away from Chicago WKD because that is where I learned so much about the show, how to focus, to keep up my stamina and have a good kind of consistency. WKD was a learning curve for me in so many ways, and actually prepared me to do AUGUST in a big house on BDWY. And then, to take it a step further and do WKD on Bdwy. I am grateful for the way it all unfolded.
Has winning a Tony had an effect on your career?
Well, I would have to say YES, because so many people saw AUGUST that now I get into more auditions, have people contact me about projects, and meet people involved in really good things. I am a lucky girl to have been blessed with all of that. But you still have to work hard, be prepared, and know that that was only one time, you still have to put your foot forward every single day and do what you have to , in order to build a career.
Do you have any funny onstage blooper stories?
Well one day during THANK GOODNESS (top of Act 2) I totally went up on my lyrics and made some up on the spot….the conductor told me afterwards I had not missed a beat & that somehow it made sense…I have very little memory of it except for the entire ensemble and Alli Mauzey and Kevin Kern being unable to look at me for the rest of the number.
How do you keep your portrayal of Madame Morrible fresh?
Well some nights are better than others…I tend to use my fellow actors to inspire me and the audience… though they are LESS dependable…. other times I am just in OZ, at Shiz University, falling into the world that the script creates and the show brings to life. Really , every now and then it is magical, no other word for it. Joe Mantello said at one early rehearsal…play the truth and invite them into the world of OZ. Best advice I got.
What advice do you have for aspiring performers?
Work hard, then work harder…go further, don’t be afraid to fail or make an idiot of your self, be curious, do NOT settle, set the bar high, be kind to yourself and others, find some other work to support yourself that you do not hate, get out of your head and off of your butt, stop complaining about your career and go and do something productive…something for SOMEBODY else who could use some help, walk a dog in a shelter, spend a holiday in a soup kitchen, talk to that old lady in your building, work with inner city kids…become a fuller person with a life that you can bring to the stage and use to draw upon as an actor. Fill the well, over and over and over.