Brittney Johnson, who will play Glinda the Good Witch in the acclaimed Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Wicked, will be the show’s first Black leading lady.
“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.”
Unlike The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which focuses on Dorothy’s journey, Wicked is about the witches Elphaba and Glinda and explores feminist themes, noting that the two women were friends before society decided one was “good” and the other was “wicked.” The play was first performed on Broadway in 2003.
In 2019, Johnson became the first woman of color to be cast as an understudy in the role of Glinda on Broadway. When she became the first Black full-time lead on Wicked on Valentine’s Day, she set a new precedent.
According to NBC News, the musical has grossed more than $5 billion in box office revenue and has been enjoyed by audiences all over the world for years. It has also been translated into at least six languages. The smash tune has been adapted into a best-selling book and has even received a Grammy.
Johnson, who is 31 years old, said she had been singing since she was a child and began piano lessons when she was eight. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Tisch School of the Arts graduate has always wanted to star in Wicked.
Other Black performers have been in supporting roles in Wicked, such Taye Diggs, Ben Vereen, and Sheryl Lee Ralph, but Johnson is the first Black woman to play Glinda, who is usually represented as blonde and white. Although Johnson still wears a wig, she made it apparent that parts of the character’s physical features had been tweaked to match 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.’”
With tight mask-wearing and COVID-19 vaccine restrictions, as well as a greater emphasis on diversity, Broadway has come back to life. Emilie Kouatchou, who played Christine Daaé full-time in The Phantom of the Opera earlier this year, made history as the first Black actress to do so.