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West End Star Savannah Stevenson on the Wicked Sisterhood and Why She'll Never Play Elphaba

English actress-singer Savannah Stevenson has become a mainstay in the West End production of Wicked, playing Glinda at the Apollo Victoria Theatre opposite a host of Elphabas that range from Willemijn Verkaik and Kerry Ellis to her current co-star, Emma Hatton. With the performance schedule for the blockbuster musical set to intensify over the holidays, the charming Stevenson took time out to talk stamina, why she won’t swap leading roles, and having her face on a billboard over Times Square.

You’ve got an incredible schedule over Christmas, with extra matinees and a 9-show week coming up. How are you getting ready?
We’re kind of bracing ourselves. But the fact is you always know that it’s coming, and I guess you have to keep in mind that you are helping other people have a really nice Christmas. I do say to myself that it would be nice to have a Christmas off, which I haven’t had in about 10 years, but we’re so lucky with Wicked in that we have great houses all the time—and especially at Christmas.

You’re clearly pretty robust.
Well, there are times where I don’t talk and I have rest time vocally most days. And you are aware with this job that maybe you can’t go into this restaurant because it’s too loud, or whatever, but I do seem to have built up my stamina. As with anything else, it’s a muscle.

What was your experience with the show before you joined the cast?
I remember when Wicked first came out on Broadway and knowledge of the show and the soundtrack sort of sweeping through drama college [the Guildford School of Acting, southwest of London]. It was the “in” thing to listen to, so I was already familiar with it before I first went to see it on the West End.

Did you see it thinking that you might play Glinda?
Not at all, partly because of my look. I don’t look like a typical Glinda until you put me in the wig and the costume. It wasn’t on my radar until I got the call to audition, and I was like, “they really want to see me for Glinda?”

It obviously went well!
The more rounds I went through, I thought, I could actually do this! I started to see how right it is for my voice and how I could bring to her some parts of my personality.

Did you then set about trading notes with other Glindas once you got the part?
I was very tempted at first to go see the show and see what other people are doing but then I thought if this is going to be my role, I do have to make it my own, so I just used the material I had in the audition room.

Is there is a Wicked community?
Yes, a kind of sisterhood. Since playing it, I’ve met up with Gina Beck, who I took over from, and when I was auditioning I did call Dianne Pilkington and asked what her advice would be as I go through the process and she was great and said to just bring yourself into the role: find that part of yourself that you connect with Glinda.

Do you relate to the themes of the show?
100%! I think one of the most important things about the show whether people realize it or not has to do first of all with it being a piece about two really strong women who change, and actually Glinda, I think, changes more than anyone. Elphaba is constantly strong, but it’s Glinda who really has a change of heart and realizes what it is in life that’s important.

It’s also Glinda who begins the show perched high above the stage! What is that like?
I’m really lucky in that I’m absolutely fine with heights! It is slightly strange, you know, in that you come out and sing an aria at the start of the show and on a small platform without being able to ground your feet. But it’s the most wonderful entrance coming in and seeing the house and also seeing the ensemble looking towards Glinda to restore order and peace.

How have you dealt with the parade of Elphabas that you have played opposite?
I came in with Willemijn [Verkaik], who is incredible, and that was an amazing start, and then Kerry Ellis and Jenny DiNoia and now Emma Hatton and as much as it’s been a bit crazy that all these women have come through and played Elphie, it’s been lovely for me to feel a connection with every single one. It’s part of why I’ve been able to stay. Probably including covers I’ve played opposite 10 Elphies in all.

There is a previous Glinda, Louise Dearman, who went on to play Elphaba. Do you see yourself crossing over to the other role?
Not at all. I get asked quite a bit whether I’d like to switch but Louise has that incredible voice that can completely crossover whereas I do not. My voice is so suited to that classical side of Glinda and not really to the more modern, belty side that could pull off Elphaba. Much as I’d love to get up there and sing “Defying Gravity,” it isn’t the role for me.

On a nonWicked note, I gather your image is currently looming over Times Square.
Yes, it’s part of a Christmas campaign for a full-scale telling of the New Testament and I’m dressed as Mary, holding the wee baby Jesus. We shot it in Utah, where I met my husband Nate, because they’ve got terrain that is very similar to Israel.

Have your fans made the connection?
Oh, yes. I get fans who tweet me the pictures. They say, “I’ve just seen you in a taxi!”