Actress' dream is to play a green-skinned witch in Wicked

Jacqueline Hughes identifies with Elphaba as she is passionate about issues.
Jacqueline Hughes identifies with Elphaba as she is passionate about issues.PHOTO: COURTESY OF MATT CROCKETT

For Jacqueline Hughes, who plays green-skinned social outcast Elphaba - one of two lead roles in the musical Wicked - it was a dream come true

8Q

Every actress waits to have her big break.

For Jacqueline Hughes, 30, that has come in the form of playing green-skinned social outcast Elphaba - one of two lead roles in the musical Wicked, which opens on Thursday at the MasterCard Theatres in Marina Bay Sands.

"It's a dream come true," says the Scot, who has been with the production since 2011, but was offered the lead role only in January this year.

When she first joined, she was a swing - the musical theatre term for an understudy - for several roles in the production. But since 2014, she had been the standby Elphaba for its United Kingdom and Ireland tour.

  • BOOK IT / WICKED

  • WHERE: Grand Theatre, MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Avenue

    WHEN: FromThursday to Nov 20, 8pm on weekdays, 2 and 8pm on Saturday, 1 and 6pm on Sunday

    ADMISSION: Tickets start at $55 and are available from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg) or www.marinabaysands.com/wicked

"It's a difficult job to take on because you always have to be ready, even if you're not doing the show. You live the role, but you don't get to play it all the time," says Hughes, who holds first class honours from The Guildford School of Acting in England.

When that tour ended last year, she joined the Mary Poppins musical production on its tour in the United Kingdom, playing the minor roles of Bird Woman and Mrs Corry.

She was midway through that when she received "the life- changing phone call".

"You train for this your whole life," she says. "This was my ultimate goal as an actress - to play Elphaba. I never thought I'd have the chance to have her to myself."

The first person she shared the good news with was her husband Mark, a gym equipment salesman.

He cried tears of joy and was fully supportive of her taking on the role, she says, even though this means the couple will be apart for 11/2 years.

This Wicked international tour will end in in January 2018.

"He told me, 'Go and do it. This is your dream, your dream come true'," says Hughes.

She adds that her immediate family members have been supportive too, although she will be missing birthday celebrations and family dinners. Her father, 72, and mother, 69, are retirees. Her older brother, Stephen, 47, is an accountant.

"It is challenging being away from family and friends, but what awaits is the joy of performing to people from different countries and taking them on a wonderful journey through the musical," she says.

What role would she want to take on next, when she is done playing Elphaba for this production?

"I don't think anything can compare to the colossal size of this role," she says.

"This is my rocket fuel for, hopefully, the rest of my career."

1 What do you like about playing Elphaba?

She's a very complex person with many layers to her, and she goes on this incredible journey.

She's a dreamer, but also fiery and hot-headed and an activist. She battles obstacles, but constantly faces them head on.

She's so strong and tough and so powerful by the end of the show. She emerges as someone who goes: If this is who you think I am, so be it. That's what I'll be. I'll be wicked.

2 Are you like Elphaba in any way?

Being from Scotland, I think I naturally have some fire in my blood (laughs).

Like her, I'm quite sure of myself and I'm also passionate about issues. I hate animal cruelty. That makes my blood boil. I voice my opinions against puppy farming quite often.

3 Playing Elphaba means you have to be painted green. Is it hard to remove the make-up?

Oh yes, it takes about 20 minutes to remove the make-up from my face, upper body and forearms. But even then, a green sheen remains on my skin. The make-up also gets stuck in my ears and my hairline.

4 Do you like being green, though?

I feel more beautiful being green, actually. I feel the colour makes my features pop and makes my teeth look really white.

5 What is one song from Wicked that you enjoy performing to?

As Long As You're Mine, which is Elphaba's duet with her love interest, Fiyero. That song is beautiful because Elphaba has never really been loved by anyone until that point, let alone been touched. In that song, Fiyero touches her skin and holds her hand. That's just a life-changing moment for her.

6 Is there any segment in Wicked that gets you emotional?

There are two parts that always get me choked up, even though I've been with Wicked since 2011.

One is in Act 1, right before the song Popular, where Elphaba attempts to dance. She's awkward, but then Glinda (the "good witch") creates a beautiful dance that dispels her awkwardness because it sees everyone joining in.

It's the first time Elphaba has been accepted into a community and it's an emotional moment.

The other is when I'm singing the duet For Good with Glinda.

It's a song that is filled with raw emotions. It sees two women, who are the best of friends, being honest with each other. They are saying thank you and I won't forget you, but also goodbye.

7 For people who know nothing about Wicked, why should they watch you or the production?

People who just glance at the show poster think my character Elphaba is a "wicked witch" and that she's bad. But that's the point of this musical. It shows that there are two sides to every story. People should watch to see why she's labelled as "bad".

As for the show, I can't really explain it, but I genuinely love this production, beyond all the incredible people in the production team. It's just so exuberant and exciting. The moment the band begins playing the overture, I'm like, "Yeah, here we go!"

8 How would you like to be remebered?

As someone who is driven, determined, inspiring and loyal.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2016, with the headline 'Going green and loving it'. Print Edition | Subscribe