Teal Wicks on Mary Barrie’s inner-strength and why the Finding Neverland cast is a special kind of family

 

Teal Wicks Photo 1

It’s immediately clear upon meeting Teal Wicks that she is vastly different from her onstage persona in Finding Neverland. While Mary Barrie is strict and stiff, the California native is good-humored and effuses an air of joyfulness. Wicks has good reason to be cheerful. Finding Neverland recently celebrated its first anniversary on Broadway, and it’s about to welcome a brand-new leading man when Alfie Boe replaces Tony Yazbeck as J.M. Barrie on March 29.

Wicks talked to Stage Door Dish about hypothetical dinner parties, how she connects to Mary Barrie’s character, and how a child-like sense of wonder helped her get to where she is today.

How excited are you guys about Alfie Boe joining the cast?

Oh, we’re really excited. He’s been around the theatre and rehearsing and stuff, so everybody’s meeting him, and he’s just such a sweet, sweet guy. He’s just so nice and he seems really excited to join the show so we’re all excited. He’s lovely.

Finding Neverland began previews on Broadway almost exactly a year ago. How do you and the rest of the cast keep the magic in this show after a year of performances?

It’s so funny because our show is not very different in a lot of ways but there are a few moments in our show that are very different from that first performance. Our opening number is completely different. They re-wrote a new number and re-choreographed it, and there are some other changes that have happened. So at the top of the show, we were all trying to remember what the original opening was. It’s so funny because it was so different. The changes were for the better so we’re all happy about that. But we have a really wonderful group over at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. The cast, the whole crew, our stage managers and everybody; it’s a really awesome group of people and we genuinely like each other so much. We are like a little family. In the theatre world you always create little families with your shows but this one just feels a little different from other shows. I don’t really know exactly why. We’re all very, very grateful to be there and really like the company of one another so we have a really great time on and offstage throughout the entire theatre. We’re really festive backstage. Our backstage area, and in the dressing rooms, are filled with decorations and little pictures that we’ve been taking over the past year. We always like to celebrate any little thing that’s happening. We’ve also had a lot of changes over the year with the changing of cast and crew members. People get opportunities to do something else, so we have a lot of new people but we always just kind of celebrate everybody. Everybody new who has joined the company just blends right into this family that we’ve created. So it’s just a really, really lovely place to go to work, and I think that helps a lot to walk onstage every night and enjoy what we’re doing and keep it alive and keep it new.

What moment in this show holds the most meaning for you?

It’s the one moment in the show that I am the only member in the cast who is not onstage. Even the dog is onstage at one point. But I get to watch it, and I used to watch it during every single show. It’s the part that we call the ‘play-within-a-play.’ It’s the final nursery scene where they start to perform Peter Pan in the nursery with all of the kids. I think it’s just so beautiful. I think it’s so well-written and beautifully choreographed and the way it’s choreographed is just such a beautiful, lovely moment of theatre. It basically starts from the moment that Charles Frohman is at the theatre in front of the curtain introducing the opening night of Peter Pan. Then the curtain flies up and we find that we’re in the Llewelyn Davies’s nursery with the kids, and they’re basically reenacting the opening of Peter Pan that we know, but it’s their story. And then the whole cast shows up and they’re like, ‘We’re going to put on the play in this nursery.’ It’s so touching and so full.

I feel like it captures everything our show is, family and imagination and believing in these things and keeping that childlike wonder and amazement alive. And then Tinkerbell is there and Mrs. du Maurier, who we sometimes call ‘Mean Granny’, is the first one to get up and start clapping for Tinkerbell. It’s so pretty. It’s just so sweet and so real. A lot of us grew up with Peter Pan. Peter Pan is one of my favorite childhood stories so I know it so well. So much of it has just been ingrained in me since I was a kid. So I think that’s why Finding Neverland resonates so well with people. It just hits nostalgia for us, and those memories come back so fast. They’re so visceral when we’re seeing this story that we know so well in front of us.

Do you have a favorite quote from Peter Pan?

It’s the one that he says first as, ‘To die will be an awfully great adventure,’ and then he says, ‘To live will be an awfully great adventure.’ I just like both of those. I think they both work. It’s true. We’re living here on this crazy planet, who knows how or what’s going on, but it’s an adventure. It’s all an adventure.

How do you get into the mindset of a character whose personality seems so different from your own?

It literally starts by just getting dressed. For Mary Barrie, they wanted a very specific shape with her. They really wanted the Gibson Girl, super curvy look. I have fake hips that I put on that give me more of the hourglass figure. They look pretty ridiculous when you see me slap them on at first, and up close and personal it looks a little weird because they exaggerate my body so much more. That, and there’s a lot of enhancement in the chest area and whatnot. All of a sudden my body shape is completely different. And then these dresses that I wear cling to the new curves that we’ve created, so it starts right there. It just kind of changes the way that I walk and the way that I sit and everything. It starts there and just kind of goes on from there. I add the jewels and the icy blonde wig and there you go.

Do you have anything in common with Mary?

There are so many lovely things about her that we don’t really get to see, but I try to enhance her with them. She wants to be the ‘hostess with the mostess.’ She loves throwing a good party and knows how to throw a good party and if I throw a party I get really excited about having people over and taking care of my guests and making sure everyone has a wonderful time. That’s a big bit of her pride. She was an actress, but now she’s retired from the stage and is a wife to this very exciting, toast of the town playwright. Basically her next job is to play society girl and host parties and be impressive and all of that. She takes pride in that and also she has a very specific idea of how she wants her life to be and the path that she is on for herself. When James is not following along on that path, she tries to get some fire under his butt to keep going on this life that they have basically planned for each other. It’s like she’s on a train and she’s saying, ‘I’m going this way, and I’m taking action and making things happen, and you’re dragging me down by not doing what you’re supposed to do and what we agreed that we would do.’ So instead of sitting down and letting him bog her down, she takes action and decides to go a different way and leaves him in the dust. When she leaves him, his train is completely derailed. He doesn’t even know what he’s doing or what his purpose in life is and she can’t let her life be sacrificed for that. She’s a very strong lady. She sticks to her convictions and goes after what she really wants, and I admire that. I try to do that. Some days I get lazy but I like to think that I’m that kind of girl.

What do you think is Mary’s most redeeming quality? Do you think it’s that strength you described?

It’s her strength. I also think she’s very charming, so her strength and her charm and her conviction. And her costumes.

You’ve had a couple of really great leading men so far, Matthew Morrison and Tony Yazbeck, and Alfie will be taking over soon. How do you alter your performance based on the actor who’s playing opposite you?

I just go with the flow and listen to them and try to be present in the moment with them because they’re all very, very different and they all bring different energies. I haven’t actually started working with Alfie on the Barrie stuff but we chatted and through getting to know him backstage and around the theatre, he’s going to be very different from Matthew and Tony. They all just have different energies and their own take on James. One of the fun things about doing theatre every night is walking onstage and looking at your fellow actor and sensing, ‘Oh, there’s something different tonight.’ Just having to be in the moment and go with the flow. They’re all wonderful. They’re all really great actors and they make strong choices, and I trust what they’re doing. So I just walk onstage and look them in the eye and go, ‘Okay, that’s what you’re doing. This is how I’m going to react.’

You do such a great job portraying women in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. What are some of the differences between Mary Barrie and Emma Carew [Jekyll & Hyde]?

The big difference is I don’t necessarily have to wear a corset for Mary Barrie. Her dresses have some boning and stuff in them but the style of Emma’s period was still super-corseted and giant bustles. Mary Barrie’s clothing is still tight and clingy, but it’s a little less structured and pulled up. I feel like she’s a little bit more sexy just from the clothing alone. She’s a little bit more of a sensual being right off the bat. Not that you see that or anything. But there are some similarities. All the characters I’ve played, I always think that they are very strong women underneath, whether they’re going through really fragile moments or they’re very vulnerable. I think they are all really strong and have very strong beliefs and ideas of the world that they’re in and how they want to live in the world that they’re in. They try as hard as they can to stick to that. So I feel like that’s a similarity between Emma and Mary. But Emma is much sweeter than Mary Barrie. Everything she does is out of the pure love she has for her father and for Henry. When we meet Mary, the love between her and James is fizzled out pretty much, so she’s on to something else. She’s on to self-preservation mode.

One very memorable scene in the show is a dinner party that doesn’t go quite according to plan. How do you think a dinner party with Mary Barrie, Elphaba, Emma Carew, and Julie Jordan [Carousel] might go?

 It would be a total disaster. I think Mary Barrie would be really weirded out that Elphaba was there. She’d be like, ‘Okay, she’s a witch. And she’s green. She’s known for having outbursts. So we’re going to sit her on the farthest end of the table.’ Mary Barrie would just want to hang out with Emma Carew. She’d be like, ‘You’re a society London gal.’ Julie Jordan’s a factory girl, so she probably doesn’t have much in the way of enlightening conversation. And Elphaba’s probably just going to freak out. I think Mary would take a lot of time to make a very specific menu to try and have something that would appease everyone. I think she would take a lot of pride in laying out a menu that everybody would enjoy that would have little hints of all of the women, and then she would just sit next to Emma and let Julie Jordan and Elphaba just kind of chat. She’d pretty much just hold court with Emma and then check in every once in awhile to see how the other girls are doing and be like, ‘Okay, cool. You stay down there. So anyway, Emma, la la la…’

Speaking of the dinner scene, can you kind of describe what’s running through your mind during ‘We Own the Night’? How do you manage to stay so still for so long while everybody else is going crazy?

Oh, yeah. It’s kind of tricky. The hardest part is keeping my eyes open because I wear contacts and sometimes when it’s allergy season, there’s all this dust and stuff that is just being flung around because they’re all dancing. So stuff is just getting kicked up in the air and you’re staring at lights, so a lot of times I’m trying to think about when I can blink. When will people not really see me blink? So that’s a big thing. It’s so funny. I think about a lot of random things. Sometimes I’m thinking about what I want to eat, because pretending to eat and drink onstage sometimes really makes you want to eat and drink in real life. And then a lot of times I’ll watch the dancers in front of me. Depending on which way I’m looking when I’m frozen, I get to see different people dance. Silently, in my mind, I’m trying to memorize the dance. I think I know the dance, because I kind of watch it every night, but since I’m frozen I can’t do it, so I’m trying to log and memorize the dance in my head as well just for fun.

Teal Wicks Photo 2

What’s the best part about working with children in a Broadway show?

No matter the day, they come in with so much lovely, wonderful, bright energy. You know, it’s a Broadway show, it’s wonderful, but it’s still my job that I do eight times a week, and sometimes it’s hard to come in. Especially when it’s winter and the weather sucks, it’s so cold, it’s an early matinee, I’m so tired…and then the kids just have so much energy and joy in them that it’s kind of hard to stay down in the dumps when you see them. They’re just such good kids. I don’t know how they balance school and a show, and they all really take care of each other. There’s six of them that cover four roles, so they’re not doing the same show every night and there’s no anger between any of them if somebody seems to be going on more than the others. They really take care of each other like brothers, and it’s really sweet. I admire them. I don’t know how they do what they’re doing at their age. I couldn’t do that. Our youngest one is eight. He’s eight years old and he’s on Broadway. That’s crazy. I probably couldn’t even properly get dressed at eight. I’d fall all over the place.

J.M. Barrie said that Neverland varies from person to person. What would your Neverland look like?

It would be like Lake Tahoe. I love Lake Tahoe; it’s my happy place. So it would be like Lake Tahoe in the summer except the mountains would be really high with snow on the peaks all the time so you could always go up and go snowboarding. But you could also come down and go hiking and the waterfalls would be flowing always but not too cold so you could actually swim in them and the lake. There’d be a lot of forests and meadows. But I also think it would be an island so there would be some cool tropical beaches. It’d be the perfect balance of all of nature: tropical beach, beautiful forest, lakes and streams, and mountains with snow.

If you could fly anywhere in the world right this instant, where would you go?

I always want to fly everywhere. I have such a travel bug itch right now. I really want to go to Scotland right now. I mean, I don’t know how the weather is right now but if I could I would go to Scotland in its ideal season. I want to see the castles, I want to see the Highlands.

You said you have a lot of downtime in act two. How do you like to spend your time offstage during the show?

Sometimes I’ll visit with people. I’ll usually go visit Laura Michelle [Kelly] during intermission. When Carolee [Carmello] was here, we’d sometimes hang out too. I haven’t started bothering Sally Ann yet but I might because Mrs. du Maurier and myself have kind of a similar long break. She goes onstage before me, but we have a lot of time off. So Carolee and I would sometimes hang out. I always end up snacking or eating. Sometimes I’ll save my dinner for that break. I don’t really know but I somehow just fill my time. I always have little mini projects. Sometimes I’m taking care of business, like following up on emails, I’m going to be doing my taxes, things like that. I’ll be doing that paperwork that you put off. I’ll read. If I have auditions I’m going on, I’ll be working on my audition stuff. I’m taking a little acting class, so I’m reading lots of plays and working on the scenes that I’m working on for that. Kind of a mix of stuff.

She seems very cold and humorless, but Mary is really just trying to keep her husband and herself from public embarrassment. So what societal norms from Edwardian times do you find most unbelievable?

Oh my goodness. That’s a hard question. I think probably just the fact that women just don’t have as much stuff as men. That’s a very vague way of saying it, but you know, financially and as far as being in charge of things and whatnot, women aren’t given as much opportunity as men to be in charge of their own estates and household finances. Actually, I don’t even know what happens when you get divorced back then, but it’s really hard for women to get a lot of the things that you get in this day and age. Now it’s both have equal hold on things, but back then women sort of always got short-changed. Women could do more stuff by the Edwardian era. I mean they could work, but they couldn’t hold a lot of offices and they couldn’t really run their own businesses.

Finding Neverland is directed by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus, who’s now directing Waitress on Broadway. Could you talk a little bit about what it’s like to work with her?

She has such vision. I think that’s why it’s so exciting. She has a vision of what she wants a show to be and it’s always very deep and it’s always a bigger idea than just the story that you’re telling. It’s always more. Peter Pan, when it was first staged, it was a groundbreaking production. It changed the mold of what shows could be. Nothing was fantastical like that. I remember on the first day of rehearsals, she was saying that we sort of have an obligation to remember how profound that show was and to honor it the best way that we can in our own production and retelling of it. So it’s not just that we’re talking about this guy and his play and this family, it is about the individual characters and what their journeys are, but there’s a grander scheme as well. Especially since we’re telling stories about real people, we have an obligation to them to tell it the best way that we can. It’s just things like that, being like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s cool. I’ll take on that task.’ She also knows how to put together a wonderful team of people. She knows specifically what she wants and she will get the best person for that job. She just assembles a brilliant group of people for the creative team and for the actors, down to every single swing that gets hired. She has very specific ideas of what she wants those people to be. She also is able to bring similar-hearted people to her projects. I think that’s why we have such a great time and why we feel like such a strong family, because I think she kind of brought together all these people that have very big hearts. So it’s cool. And to watch her work is like she’s painting the stage with the show, with the space, with the movement, with the people, with the sound, with the color and the emotions of a show. It’s hard to really explain it, but it’s very cool.

You performed with Drew Gehling in the Broadway Sings Sara Bareilles concert at the Highline Ballroom a few months ago. What’s your absolute favorite Sara Bareilles song?

I’m a new fan of hers, and I feel bad saying that because she’s done a lot of stuff, but I think recently I was like, ‘Oh my God, wow, she’s incredible!’ This song that’s on her Brave Enough: Live album, it’s called ‘Once Upon Another Time’, I love that song. It’s so simple.

If you could play any traditionally male role on Broadway, past or present, what would it be?

My top three male roles are sort of androgynous roles, so I feel like I’m kind of cheating. It’d be between Hedwig and the Emcee in Cabaret. Either of those would be so much fun.

Do you have any personal mottos or mantras that you live by?

Very simple ones. I still try to live by ‘live with no regrets.’ Not like do whatever you want but, especially as I’m getting older, it’s so easy to regret things you’ve done and be sort of ‘woulda coulda shoulda’ about things. I think by trying to not have regrets, it’s taking responsibility for the choices you’ve made and also trying to not live in the past but in the present. That’s kind of one big one. And just…be nice. Be nice and look on the bright side of life, that sort of stuff.

I think that’s very important in today’s world maybe more than ever.

I know. It totally is. It’s just like, why the hate? Why hate so much? Come on.

If you could star in a new musical based on any other historical figure of your choosing, who would it be?

I should probably think of somebody who’s more, well not more cool, but Katharine Hepburn. I think it’d be so fun. She was a crazy lady but I’m fascinated by her.

What one thing do you most want audience members to take home with them after seeing Finding Neverland?

Joy. I want them to leave feeling the awe that they felt when they were young and seeing theatre. I fell in love with theatre at such an early age, and I just was awestruck by what was happening onstage. I love when I see a show and have that feeling again. It’s why I wanted to do theatre and it’s why I love it so much so I hope that people can leave the show with that.

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About Brooke R.

"Don't wait for people to tell you who you are. Show them." - Laura Benanti

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