Jenna Leigh Green on the iconic music in The Marvelous Wonderettes, playing mean girls

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Most notably known for her time as high school queen bee Libby Chessler on Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Jenna Leigh Green has come a long way since her mean girl days- though she still plays that role quite well.

Green, a self-proclaimed ‘lifer’, has over 20 years of acting experience under her belt. She has seen success both on the stage and in front of the camera; and now she is currently starring in the Off-Broadway revival of The Marvelous Wonderettes. a jukebox musical that takes place between the late 1950s to the late 1960s. Green stars as Cindy Lou, again donning her signature mean girl persona, though this time she gets a redeeming twist.

Green has been making her way into the bright lights of show business since she was 15, and she has no intention of stopping. While the path for others may lead them to somewhere off of the stage, Green is going to sing and dance her way through life for as long as she can.

Green found the time to talk with Stage Door Dish about the whirlwind surrounding The Marvelous Wonderettes, the long-standing notoriety surrounding her Sabrina the Teenage Witch days, and finally getting the play the nice girl for once.

Your career has spanned over 20 years at this point, which is an amazing accomplishment. Did you always know you wanted to be an actress? Were you always more inclined to the stage? 

I was very shy growing up, I have a twin sister and she was always much for at the forefront of things. I was in a church play and that was sort of the start of it all. I got into plays in middle school and from there I began community theatre and then regional theatre. It was just fantastic; I had so much available to me. At 15 I was in The Diary of Anne Frank and from that I got a manager and that was it! I sort of fell into the TV thing, just by living in L.A. Before that, I thought that I would go to college to study musical theatre, but the path ended up different.

So if you weren’t involved in theatre/acting, what would you do?

I don’t have an answer. I always get asked that question and I never have an answer. There is a community of people like me who morph into other things- teaching, casting, working behind the scenes, etc. and it is wonderful to have performing be a huge part of your life and then feel fulfilled changing and trying something new. For me, I just can’t imagine doing something else. I’m a ‘lifer’. There are times when jobs are a plenty and when there’s nothing. So you pick up odd gigs here and there and stay afloat until the next great thing. I just can’t see myself doing anything else.  

Everyone loved you as Queen Bee Libby, which must’ve been such a fun role for you to play? What is it like to have played such an iconic and recognizable role?

It’s funny, the digital age now with Netflix and Hulu, etc. It’s kind of crazy because it’s like I keep feeling at some point it won’t be relevant, but nope- it’s the next generation onto the next. It was a really cute show and it had a lot of harmless fun. It was appropriate for kids to watch so those who grew up watching it and now have young children are introducing it to them. It’s crazy it is still as popular! It’s funny when people recognize me because I feel a million years older, but I guess not! I also was a late bloomer, so I came more into my own, as I got older. When filming the show I thought the part was fun- who doesn’t love getting to pretend to be the mean girl?- I had no idea that this role would be as iconic as it seems to be now.

You’ve since gone on to continue playing the prim, goody two shoes, ‘mean girl’ role of Nessarose. You stayed with Wicked for quite a while. How did the experience differ from Broadway to tour?
I did three companies back to back without a break; it felt like such a long time. I have so many friends who’ve done the show way longer than I ever did; it’s that kind of show. The world and this business have changed and people know to stick with a good job when they find it! I did two and a half years touring across the U.S. and Canada with it. Nessa is a little underestimated, what people think of the character. It is interesting to have an essentially non-singing role, except for her one song. I looked at it as more of an acting role. When we first started, there was no Elphaba standby. I had originally auditioned for Elphaba after doing Bare which brought me to NYC. Some of the Wicked creative team saw Bare and they asked me if I would consider the role of Nessa. I went to one more quick little audition where I didn’t even have to sing with Joe, the director, and a few hours later I found out I got the role. A few days later, after the initial offer, I was asked to understudy Elphaba. I have never understudied before so I was nervous, but I did it once or twice a week for a full year! After that they brought in a standby.

Now in Wonderettes, Cindy Lou sort of channels that Libby/Nessa vibe. It seems like you keep getting that mean girl character! 

She is so much fun to play! I talked with the producer and director, but never saw show before I got the offer. I knew that it originally started in L.A., I think I have friends who did the show, but I never saw it! So I started stalking it on YouTube to see what it was about and how it worked. I noticed right away that Cindy Lou in Act 1 is the mean girl; she isn’t very nice especially to her best friend. People felt the need to play her in a nice way, except… she isn’t.

The girl in high school who is selfish and self absorbed, not thinking of anyone else. That’s from being young, being a teenager, those girls grow up and most of the time grow up and know that there is more to life than becoming prom queen. Cindy Lou gets the biggest change over the 10 years, it helps to see how much she has grown and softened up by Act 2.

In Tonya and Nancy you didn’t have to play the mean girl for once! It seems like that was an amazing show!

I loved getting to do that because so many people don’t know the story, they still think of Nancy as a mean, privileged, snotty rich girl. David Alpert, the director, was wonderful. It was a short run, and a small amount of time to learn, so he gave me documentaries and YouTube interviews to watch. Nancy wasn’t wealthy; her father worked three jobs to pay for her skating. Maybe because of the way she looks or how she carried herself people thought she was snotty, but she was shy and hated cameras and interviews. Because she didn’t like being in the spotlight, people assumed she was snotty.

Back to Wonderettes, happy opening! How is the show going so far?

It is going great! It has really been a whirlwind. I was a bit overwhelmed when we first stared. We had two and a half weeks of rehearsal, which equaled to 13 rehearsal days. The story itself is loose, but the music is a lot. It is 27 songs, and some of them are 6-7 minute long medleys and we have four-part harmonies to learn. They got us material ahead of time, which was wonderful so there was a lot of work to do before the rehearsals started. It was all at such a fast pace, it felt like I had no idea what I was doing, but once we began previews, I realized that we did. We needed an audience, it is such an interactive part of the show and we really needed that. We also had five weeks of previews before we opened to figure it all out.   

Do you have a favorite song?

It is pretty great to sing ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ every night. However, my favorite song isn’t one that I sing. I grin ear to ear when Christina Bianco sings ‘Secret Love’. I sit on the stage in the corner, it is the one scene where I sit and I’m off to the side a bit so I get to watch her and I just beam. It is so beautiful.

Did you grow up on any of this music?
You hear these songs and think you know them, and then you start learning them and realize you don’t actually know them at all. I didn’t grow up listening to this sort of music; my parents were more James Taylor and The Carpenters, more folksy. They listened to Barry Manilow a lot too. I was familiar with most of them, but our arrangements are different, so even when I sing the melody line, I have to learn new melodies, but it is great to learn some of these older songs. Act 1 is very sweet and cute and Act 2 has these very strong, inspiring songs about women empowering each other.   

Wonderettes is from such a fun era. If you could be in a show set in any era, what would it be?
Well, I finally saw Hamilton, I absolutely lost my mind. It was amazing! Something from that time would be cool, however I have sung with a corset once and that was fairly hard so I might not love that. Something maybe from film noir, or from Chaplin’s time, I love that era, the 1920’s and 1930’s. I love the style, the hair, makeup, and clothing.

Cindy Lou so desperately wants to be Prom Queen, what was your own prom like?
This is the first prom I got to go to! I was working during that time and didn’t get to go to prom; and I don’t regret a second of it! Now I get to go to the prom every night!

Out of the four girls, which one do you most personally identify with? Why?
Oh wow, that’s a great question. I guess I identify with all of them in a different way. For Cindy Lou, it’s the confidence, whether it is put on or not, you don’t know. For Betty Jean, it’s her optimism, her enthusiasm for life in general. For Missy, it is her organization. I’m certainly not the most organized person in the world, but I like doing the work and getting things right. I have a tendency to want things to be perfect. And Suzy…  I’m not sure about Suzy. I am more sarcastic and a bit more jaded than she is. But I love her, I think the audience loves her the most, how could anyone not? I do get excited like Suzy about some things, like Disneyland, so I guess we’d have that.

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About Nicole N.

"Say yes. Show up afraid, show up prepared, but say yes." - Renee Elise Goldsberry

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