‘Wicked’ gets its first Black leading lady, Brittney Johnson
Johnson made history on Broadway in 2019 when she became the understudy playing Glinda — the first woman of color to be cast in that role.
The acclaimed Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Wicked has cast its first Black leading lady in Brittney Johnson, who — as of Monday — began starring as Glinda the Good Witch.
“I’m really excited for people to be able to see someone who looks like them onstage, wearing the crown,” Johnson, who has frequently used her platform to address representation and equity issues on Broadway, told NBC News. “As soon as I put that crown on — and there’s something about wearing a crown — it’s very special. It’s fun.”
Wicked, which debuted on Broadway in 2003, is inspired by The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but instead of focusing on the journey of Dorothy, the play is about the witches Elphaba and Glinda, and explores feminist themes, noting that the two women were friends before society determined one was “good” and the other “wicked.”
Johnson made history on Broadway in 2019 when she became the understudy playing Glinda, the first woman of color to be cast. On Valentine’s Day, she broke a new boundary when she took over as Wicked‘s first Black full-time lead.
According to NBC News, the musical has grossed upward of $5 billion in box-office sales and has traveled for years, enjoyed by global audiences and translated into at least six languages. The hit production has been turned into a bestselling book and even won a Grammy Award.
Johnson, 31, said she has been singing since she was young and started piano lessons when she was 8 years old. The graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts told The Hollywood Reporter she always knew she wanted to be in Wicked.
Her first acting job was as a swing and replacement in Motown the Musical. “It changed my whole outlook,” the actress says of her time with Motown — where she played nine roles. “I learned so much about my capabilities as a performer and, just as a human being, what I’m able to internalize and execute.”
Wicked has featured other Black actors — including Taye Diggs, Ben Vereen and Sheryl Lee Ralph — in supporting roles, but Johnson is the first Black woman to play Glinda, who is typically portrayed as blonde and white. Johnson still wears a wig but made clear the Wicked team has modified some physical elements of the character to complement her presentation.
“There’s a specific way that as a Black person you learn to present and handle yourself, because there’s always people, whether they want to admit it, who are seeing you through some kind of filter or some kind of preconceived stereotypes,” she says. “So it was finding the balance between who the character is and, ‘This would look ridiculous, so I cannot present myself this way as a self-respecting human being and especially as a Black woman.’”
Broadway has returned to life, with strict mask-wearing and COVID-19 vaccination requirements, plus more of a focus on diversity. As previously reported, earlier this year, Emilie Kouatchou officially made history as the first Black actress to play Christine Daaé full time in The Phantom of the Opera.
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