Chatback with Jackie Burns

Broadway actor Jackie Burns is unstoppable. This hugely talented artist is lending her crystalline vocals to some of the most formidable roles on stage. Recently, Burns delighted audiences with her crowning performance as Queen Elsa at the Broadway Princess Party, which even garnered a mid-show standing ovation. Next month, she will be starring as Eva Peron in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita at Amarillo Opera. Besides her immense talent, Burns is also one of the most down to earth performers I’ve had the pleasure of working with. She took time recently to discuss the rigors of being a member of Wicked’s “Green Girls Club” and the daunting task of replacing Idina Menzel at a moment’s notice with no rehearsal time at all.

I know that you’re working on several new different projects at the moment. What can you tell us about them?

I’m doing a concert for Frank Wildhorn this Saturday [March 17th] in UT. I’m also in the studio recording a new musical for composers, Sam Carner and Derek Gregor. And I’m doing Evita for Amarillo Opera.

Tell us more about Evita.

It’s my first time working for an opera company. I think I’m the only non-opera person doing it. It’s literally two weeks of rehearsals for three performances. I’ve never experienced anything like it before. But it’s a dream role. I’ve always wanted to play Evita but the timing has never worked out so now that I’m free – I was like “yes!” And I’ve never been to Amarillo, TX [laughs].

Your “Adele Dazeem Medley” at the Broadway Princess Party has become such a huge hit on YouTube. It was creative genius. How did the idea come about?

The creator and music director, Ben Rauhala asked me to play Elsa and perform “Let It Go.” But he also thought it would be fun to do a whole medley of the shows I’ve done. So he wrote it and it was amazing. He is the genius behind it. It was all him!

Let’s discuss If/Then the Musical. You were in the Broadway production and later replaced Idina Menzel on the national tour. What was that like?

It was so much fun! I feel honored to be one of two women to play that role. And what amazing company to be in. It was a dream for me to be able to takeover the role of Elizabeth, after being the standby on Broadway. Also, for the tour I got to work with the director, Michael Greif, whom I love and adore. Being able to work with him for three weeks on this character was incredible. I think it’s one of the best roles for a female in musical theatre.

Was it difficult to portray two different characters/personalities [Liz and Beth] on-stage?

Not really because you’re the same person but in a different environment. The character of Elizabeth is still the over-thinker regardless if she chooses career over love…or love over career. For example, I’d still be Jackie Burns if I were a pet groomer, insurance salesperson or actor. I would just dress and talk differently. But I have a terrible potty mouth so that probably wouldn’t fly in an 9 to 5 environment, where in theatre it does [laughs].

What activities did you enjoy while on tour?

I love eating [laughs]. Matt Hydzik, who played my husband [Josh] on the If/Then tour mapped out all these great restaurants to try. And I would also run. It was a great way to see the country!

And you spent 2 1/2 years performing in Wicked. What was that like?

Wicked was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Once you play Elphaba everything else is like a walk in the park. People don’t understand how hard it really is. It’s not just the singing and screaming but Elphaba never leaves the stage. Also, people are constantly touching up your makeup all throughout the show and during intermission. Then after the show you start the process of “de-greening” [laughs]. You never get a chance to chill.

On two-show days would stay in full green makeup after the matinee?

No, I have to wash my face off. I don’t wear a lot of makeup in real life anyway. I would even wash my face when I played Elizabeth [If/Then] and that’s just heightened street makeup [laughs]. I always re-do my makeup before every show. And it’s difficult with Elphaba because they make you look older by giving you a darker eye and lip and more defined cheekbones, as the show progresses so it’s harder to try to reverse the aging process then start over from the beginning.

Any funny stories to share from Wicked?

Geez…so many. Where to begin? [laughs] I dropped the broom during Defying Gravity. The whole reason Elphaba could fly was because of this broom! I thought I was going to get fired. I started doing a lot of crazy arm movements hoping no one would notice and nobody did really! Wicked is like a fine-tuned machine. I was waiting for the stage manager to say “you ruined it.” I thought to myself “if you could only hear my inner monologue the whole time.” Also, Richard Blake [Fiyero] and I were doing the lion cub scene, where she yells at him and doesn’t let him speak. His line was “Do you ever let anyone else talk?” And I totally forgot my line and just stared at him. It couldn’t have happened at a worst moment. He started laughing. I was mortified.

How do you warm up before your performances?

It was very regimented for Wicked. I would start an hour before with a physical warm up – 100 jumping jacks, stretching, shower and steam. If/Then wasn’t as difficult vocally, so I would warm up while I was getting my hair done. The poor hairdresser would hear my same 15-minute vocal warmup everyday [laughs]. And I would always sing the same 3 songs before I take the stage – “No One Mourns the Wicked” [Wicked], “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” [Sweeney Todd] and “What’s the Use of Wonderin” [Carousel].

Let’s go back to your first Broadway production. Please tell us about Hair.

Sheila was so much fun. It was my Broadway debut and I went on during previews. So I hadn’t had rehearsals yet. I learned everything an hour before the show. I literally didn’t have time to be nervous. Same thing with If/Then. I went on mid-show [to replace Idina, who fell ill] and hadn’t been to rehearsals yet, which was scheduled for the following week. The audience had no idea that the extent of my rehearsal was singing along to the songs karaoke style in my dressing room [laughs].

And hopefully people will read this interview and now know.

Yes, and now they’ll know [laughs].

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