This week, Playbill checks in with Kimber Elayne Sprawl, who is currently starring in Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman's international hit musical Wicked at Broadway's Gershwin Theatre.
Sprawl, recently seen as Marianne Lane in the Tony-nominated musical Girl From the North Country, plays the wheelchair-using Nessarose in Wicked. She is the first Black actor to play the part full-time on Broadway.
The actor's Broadway credits also include A Bronx Tale and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical as well as the national tour of Disney's The Lion King. Her screen credits include East New York, That Damn Michael Che, and Inside Amy Schumer.
In the brief interview below, done prior to Sprawl beginning performances in Wicked, she explains how her current role in Wicked reinforces her desire to be an advocate for others while elevating her own journey as a Black artist on Broadway. The actor also shares a favorite backstage memory from her time in Girl From the North Country.
What is your typical day like now?
Typically, my day focuses on how I can set myself up to have the most productive rehearsal at Wicked. So that means either waking up early to go to the gym so that I feel strong and energized, or sleeping in for maximum recovery. For me, having moments of joy is important, like breakfast with my fiancé, to put me in a good and positive mood. Before rehearsal, I warm up, meditate, and go over my lines and blocking. At rehearsal, I focus a lot on working with the wheelchair, so that it becomes an extension of my body. Sometimes I'll watch the show; other evenings, I’ll go home to process the day and soak up my last nights of freedom.
Are there any parts of the role or the musical that seem particularly poignant given the events of the last few years?
Over the holidays, I invited a dear family member of mine over for dinner. They use a wheelchair and were unable to enter my home because the elevator suddenly stopped working, and there were no alternatives set in place. I was mortified and profusely apologetic. They responded with a casual matter-of-fact tone, “It's OK, people always forget about wheelchair users.” That statement melted my heart and has stuck with me since.
I use a wheelchair for the majority of the show, and it has given me the opportunity to reflect on all people with disabilities and how we, as a society, do not do enough to accommodate and include them. Even today, there are still spaces they cannot occupy because of a simple lack of consideration and imagination. This role reminds me that it is so imperative to advocate for others, while fighting for the issues that directly impact me and my community.
What does it mean to you to be the first Black actor to play the role of Nessarose full-time on Broadway?
It means a great deal to me to be the first Black Nessarose on Broadway. Diverse representation, as we know, is extremely important. It inspires people, invokes change, and it’s the thing to do. Period! Until recently, I never imagined myself in Wicked because I never saw myself represented. Brittney Johnson and Jordan Barrow changed that narrative for me, and I am proud I get to be that inspiration for others. Wicked is a monumental musical, and I'm honored to be a part of its history in a way that is indicative of and glorifies my journey as a Black woman on Broadway and makes my community proud.
READ: Brittney Johnson Is Grateful for Her Year as Wicked's Good Witch
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
Ultimately, I think that no matter who you are, you should remember and take comfort in that fact there is enough places for everyone. There is enough room for every story to be told and every plight to be acknowledged and celebrated. We, as an artistic community, should live by that code by validating and elevating the stories and communities that are being overlooked. It only make us stronger and more empathetic.
Looking back at your time in Girl From the North Country, can you share a favorite onstage memory and a favorite backstage memory?
Aw man, there are so many glorious memories at Girl From the North Country! We fought so hard and overcame so many battles and ambiguities during COVID, so to finally have that moment at The Tonys, where it felt like we finally crossed the finished line, I'll forever be grateful. Backstage, my favorite moment was during Black History Month. Every night at half hour, the Black cast members would get on the intercom and sing our original “Black History Fact” song and honor a person in Black History that you don’t always hear about. Everyone in the building began to look forward to it, and it was just a lovely bonding experience for us.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past few years that you didn't already know?
Over the past few years, I've surprised myself with the level of sensitivity and vulnerability I am capable of. I’m always trying to be strong as a means of survival. But lately, I've tapped into a softer approach to things, and it's been so rewarding spiritually.
Do you have a dream stage role?
Dream show, hmmm, well, I’ve done The Lion King, now Wicked, so Hamilton is next… Lin, I’m coming for you!
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
The Educational Video Center is a non-profit youth media organization dedicated to teaching documentary video as a means to develop the artistic, critical literacy, and career skills of young people, while nurturing their idealism and commitment to social change. EVC’s vision is a society free from structural inequity where all young people are able to reach their full potential and effect real change in their communities. Donate here!