For more than two years, veteran Broadway actress Marilyn Caskey has spent 45 minutes each night transforming herself into a character she describes as, “eccentric, glamorous and severe.” Commanding the stage in her asymmetrical outfits, Madame Morrible is the epitome of evil.
Morrible is the headmistress of Shiz University, where a slightly naive Elphaba (The Wicked Witch of the West) and Glinda (The Good Witch of the North) meet for the first time in the musical Wicked. (If you're not familiar, you'll have your chance to meet Morrible; the blockbuster that brings Oz to life is flying into Bass Concert Hall for a three-week spell starting Jan. 25)
Madame Morrible makes the girls roommates, an action that changes both of their lives for good. Throughout the musical, the power-hungry Madame Morrible is suspected of several heinous acts, including — slight plot spoiler — murder.
“She’s just driven to one goal and she doesn’t care what the consequences are, and she uses everyone along the way and throws them out when she’s tired of them,” Marilyn Caskey says of the larger-than-life character she relishes playing.
I caught up with Caskey by phone just before a performance in Jacksonville, Florida, a week before she and her company return to Austin. When talking about Madame Morrible, Caskey often uses the adjectives "crazy," "eccentric" and "evil."
“I like to play crazy eccentric women. If I hear they are casting for that type of role I think great, I’m going for that,” she says. “Somewhere in there I have a lot of eccentricities [myself]. That’s what I love about this character. “
In her long list of theater credits, Caskey has also played Carlotta and Madame Giri in Phantom of the Opera, two characters she calls wonderfully vivid, charming and a bit crazy, like Morrible.
“As eccentric as they are, everyone can relate to aspects of bigger than life characters, which is what I like about character roles,” she says.
I asked Caskey what she thinks makes Wicked an enduring hit. "There are a lot of elements that many people, no matter who they are and where they are in their life can relate to. It’s really a pertinent story no matter where you are in life or who you are."
She says between a pair of witches, flying monkeys and a wizard, the musical also teaches a lesson or two.
“People have all aspects of humanity within them and they are sometimes given a label that doesn’t allow them to be fully who they are. People change and grow and they are a lot more human than people may believe. There is more to people than meets the eye or ear. “
It’s also great fun, with moving music and whimsical costumes and sets. Caskey says though Wicked contains many references to the Wizard of Oz, you don’t have to be familiar with the film or story to enjoy the show.
The musical that has been charming audiences since its 2003 Broadway debut rolls into Austin this Wednesday and is on at Bass Concert Hall until Feb. 12. The last time Wicked was in Austin, it played to sold-out audiences, so reserve your seats early. If you are willing to take your chances, there are a limited number of same-day orchestra seats available for each performance.