Barbara Robertson returns to Wicked as Madame Morrible this holiday season. With a bustling Chicago theatre agenda, Nunn on One caught up for a quick chat about her busy dramatic life.
Windy City Times: Hello, Barbara. I want to hear about how you started in theater. Did you study it in school?
Barbara Robertson: I went to the University of Illinois. I did one play in high school. It was Oklahoma. Someone just asked me to come be a square dancer. I was in band. I wasn't in choir. No one ever taught me music so to sing the finale I just sang with whomever I was next to. I was singing all the parts [sings Oklahoma in male and female voice].
WCT: Oh, my gosh.
Barbara Robertson:That was fun. So yes I studied theater at U of I until I decided that was what I really wanted to do, so I came to Chicago to start working right away.
WCT: What other theater companies did you work for?
Barbara Robertson:I did the Goodman, Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare and the Court Theatre; also, Northlight and Victory Gardens.
WCT: You have been everywhere. What a good run you have had!
Barbara Robertson:Yeah, I have done most of Chicago. Then I went out to do the Kennedy Center three times and one national tour of Angels in America.
WCT: You did?
Barbara Robertson:I got to travel the country. It was the most incredible play. I got to take my kids with me. When one of them left to go back home, I realized that they were fine without me but I wasn't fine without them. So I decided to stay in my hometown.
WCT: You are still working so that is great. Is there a show that you wanted to do but haven't?
Barbara Robertson:Oh, surebut I focus on what I get to do.
WCT: How did you get involved with Working [a musical based on the Studs Terkel work that will begin previews Feb. 15, 2011, at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place]?
Barbara Robertson:I auditioned. It was odd actually because I had a conflict and so the first couple of times they asked I wasn't available. Something happened and my agent said they would have to pull me out of a show but in the meantime I should audition for Working. It turned out that I was able to do both shows.
WCT: And now you have Wicked, too. The show has such a following; is that intimidating?
Barbara Robertson:No, it's not for me. They have been so fabulous. They really let me do my own performance.
WCT: So you don't have to copy past versions, such as Rue McClanahan's.
Barbara Robertson:Nope. In fact, at one point we were joking and they were giving me notes. They told me that I don't have to hold my hands up like this and I thought I had to do that. They were really wonderful. I do the correct blocking and, of course, the lines. It is really important to watch the twinkle in the other person's eyes, to keep it alive and keep it fun.
WCT: This is a short run, correct?
Barbara Robertson:Yes, I am just dropping in for the Chicago portion.
WCT: You are not going anywhere else?
Barbara Robertson:No, because I go right into rehearsals for Working in January and performing it in February.
WCT: How long is the run for Working?
Barbara Robertson:It's an open run.
WCT: Do you have plans for after that?
Barbara Robertson:I do. I have to leave Working a little bit early to do The Detective's Wife up at The Writers' Theatre. It's a new Keith Huff play. He sent me the script about two years ago. Then I come back to Working. So I am just gone from Working for a little while.
WCT: You are "Working" it in Chicago!
Journey back to Oz and grab this hot ticket at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph; the show runs through Jan. 23. 2011. Visit www.broadwayinchicago.com for details. Detective's Wife information can be found at www.writerstheatre.org .