Katie Rose Clarke, who played Glinda in the Broadway and touring companies of Wicked, is back on stage in the first Main Stem revival of the short-lived Stephen Sondheim and George Furth musical Merrily We Roll Along.
Clarke, who made her Broadway debut opposite Victoria Clark in the Tony-winning The Light in the Piazza, plays put-upon wife Beth opposite the Franklin Shepard of Jonathan Groff in the Merrily revival. Daniel Radcliffe and Tony winner Lindsay Mendez also star as Charley and Mary, respectively.
Houston, Texas, native Clarke has also been seen on Broadway as Hannah Campbell in Allegiance and Ellen in Miss Saigon and received the Connecticut Critics Choice Award for Best Actress in 2014 for her work as Cathy in the Long Wharf Theatre production of The Last Five Years. Her screen credits include CBS’ The Good Wife and NCIS: New Orleans, the independent film Maybe There’s a Tree, and the PBS broadcast of Piazza.
In the interview below for the Playbill series How Did I Get Here—spotlighting not only actors, but directors, designers, musicians, and others who work on and off the stage to create the magic that is live theatre—Clarke shares her road to Broadway and why she considers her latest stage role a "badass."
Where did you train/study?
I went to Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.
Was there a teacher who was particularly impactful/helpful? What made this instructor stand out?
When I was in high school, I started voice lessons. My very first voice teacher was Laney Carlin. We are still close to this day. She introduced me to musical theatre. She would lend me her CD soundtracks from her favorite shows. I would take them home and listen to them on my boombox, following along with the lyrics and studying the tiny photos that came inside the CD case, from start to finish. Miss Saigon and Les Misérables, The Secret Garden, Chicago. She gave me my love for musicals.
You get to sing what may be the best-known song from the Merrily score, "Not a Day Goes By." How did you tackle the song or try to make it unique from other versions?
I honestly just didn't approach it with the intention of trying to make it unique. The scene/song is so devastating and beautiful that I just have to ride the wave of it. If anything, I try to get out of the way and not approach it with ideas of how I want to sing a certain note or say a line or even how to feel. The less agenda I bring to it, the better.
How did you approach the role of Beth in order to give her as much dimension as possible?
I actually think Beth is kind of a badass. To me, she personifies the saying, "Don't talk about it, be about it." In the 1950s, she moves from Houston to New York City by herself. That's incredibly brave. She stands up to her parents to marry Frank. She has a baby and is also the family breadwinner. She's fearless and honest. She doesn't play games; she just says what she truly means. There's nothing hidden under her words.
Can you share a favorite moment—on stage or backstage—from the Off-Broadway run of Merrily?
I love when things go awry and someone breaks character. The one that happened most consistently was at the top of “Bobby and Jackie and Jack.” There’s a Mylar fringe curtain that drops down right in front of us just before Dan’s first line of the song. He has to pop his head through the Mylar fringe just as it’s coming down as he’s singing the first line. It happens quite fast, and the timing of it was tricky to work out. Some nights it would hit him in the face as he started singing. Other nights, it wouldn’t come down at all. And some nights, he would carry on, assume the curtain wasn’t coming down, and start to sing only to have his face smacked with Mylar fringe in the middle of his line. Always very hilarious for Jonathan and me, and very frustrating for Dan. Bonus laughter for when his glasses would get caught in the fringe.
What made you decide to become an actor? Was there a particular production or performance that influenced your decision?
In high school my family visited New York, and I saw my very first Broadway shows. Lea Salonga had returned to Miss Saigon, and Bebe Neuwirth was back in Chicago. I saw those two women in those shows on that trip, and I was never the same.
How did you get your first job in the theatre?
While I was in college, I would drive to downtown Houston and audition for shows at the professional theatres there. The first and only acting job I ever got in Houston was in the chorus of Anything Goes starring Dee Hoty as Reno Sweeney. I wasn’t a very good tap dancer, so every night after rehearsal, I would put my tap shoes on and go down to this pavilion area in my apartment complex to drill the tap numbers over and over until I got it. I didn't want to disturb my downstairs neighbors, but I was so determined to get it right that I tap danced outside on concrete until I felt like I had it down pat.
What do you consider your big break?
My big break was in 2005. I got the opportunity to audition for The Light in the Piazza
to replace Kelli O’Hara. My high school voice teacher, Laney Carlin, was friends with the conductor of Piazza, Kim Grigsby. Kim asked Laney if she knew of anyone that could audition, and Laney mentioned me. So my mom and I flew up to New York so I could take the audition. I ended up getting a callback, which we didn’t expect, so she and I had to change our return flights to stay longer and get another hotel. On Friday I found out I got the job, and I had to start rehearsals the following Tuesday. So I flew back to Texas, packed a bag, and came back to New York on Tuesday for rehearsal.