By: Stefanie Sears
Jessica Vosk of Clinton is the most recent woman inducted into the “Green Girl Sisterhood,” a collective term referred to all of the women who have shared one such green-skinned role, as she performs as the iconic Elphaba in the Winnie Holzman and Stephen Schwartz Broadway musical Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre.
Her interest in the arts began when she was about three or four years old when she was exposed to her father’s musical nature. He had a band when he was in his 30s, so he taught her about harmonies and how to sing.
“I’ve been a huge fan of records, rock music and pop music. I grew up singing in the living room with my dad,” Vosk explains, “Those memories, they click. Music was such a huge part of my life. I will always say and still feel to this day that music completely changes people and can be emotionally helpful with people going through any moment of their life.”
She then got into community theater at 7 or 8 years old. When she was in fourth grade, she performed in the Carole King show Really Rosie. This was the experience that really ignited the fire within her.
“It was probably the first time that I got a laugh from the audience onstage. I was like, ‘This is addictive. This is something that I can do that can help people.’ From then on, the rest was history. It was all I wanted to do.”
However, she did not start off her professional career this way. Though she did want to look into musical theater programs for college, she eventually obtained a degree in Communications and Public and Investor Relations at Montclair State University.
Vosk’s decision here was pretty typical for those in her position. The common thought process is that a career in the arts industry is not very financially stable so one must find a more grounded path.
“My parents said to choose something different, so that’s when I decided to go to Montclair State and do a complete 180 from the musical theater world and dive right into a communications major and a specialty in investor relations,” Vosk says.
Before she even graduated, she got a job at an investor relations firm in midtown Manhattan.
“It was the idea of this is how I’m going to take care of myself and my parents won’t have to support me and they’ll be proud of the fact that I’m doing a real people job and it won’t be so much of a struggle figuring out how to break into the Broadway career.”
In the end, however, she realized that this did not make her happy, but she does not regret it.
“I barreled along for almost three years at that job and didn’t sing or do musical theater or see any theater that whole time,” says Vosk, “At the end of the day, I think that if I didn’t do that financial path, I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am right now or reached the level of success that I’m working with right now. In essence, it’s all a business and to have learned the business world first was kind of a blessing. Without that experience, I would never be here right now. I wouldn’t be as knowledgeable about business decisions that I make. I wouldn’t be as confident.”
Vosk was performing in Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway when she found out that she had booked Elphaba for the national tour and ended up touring for about 13 months in 2016 and 2017.
“It was a whirlwind. I toured the country and it was a huge learning experience of how to take care of yourself. The role itself is the hardest role a female could play these days. She’s a beast in every way, shape, and form physically, vocally, mentally. She never leaves the stage. You can really learn a lot about yourself and what you’re capable of. I had crossed my fingers when I left the tour. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to play her on Broadway.”
However, Vosk was welcomed on board just in time for the Wicked 15th Anniversary and she made her Elphaba Broadway debut on July 16, 2018. The newest addition in a long line of Elphaba’s, she has huge shoes to fill, and some of her befriended predecessors in the “Green Girl Sisterhood” have guided her along the way.
“There’s something really special about being able to say to somebody, ‘I understand, and I get it. I know exactly what the role is and exactly what you’re going through.’ Because unless you’ve played it, you have no idea.”
Vosk credits Julia Murney, who is one of the first women to have played Elphaba both on tour (2006) and Broadway (2007), as one such previous actress and friend of Vosk to have given her advice. Another is Idina Menzel’s initial successor Shoshana Bean, whom also played the role both on tour (2006) and on Broadway (2005). Vosk refers to Bean as a “fierce vocalist.”
“It’s just the kind of thing when you run into each other and you say, ‘You know what? If you need anything, I got you.’ She’s wonderful that way. Mandy Gonzalez, the same thing. They all have different advice because everybody’s experience is different, but at the end of the day, the difficulties are the same, so it’s nice to be able to bond with people over that. Even the ones who I have not had a chance to meet, I just think that all the women are just fierce lady bosses. There is a strength that comes with playing this role that sometimes you don’t realize until you’re in it or when you’re done with it.”
Therefore, Vosk’s “beast” description of Elphaba is seemingly accurate and appropriate. From the moment of Elphaba’s conception in the show, it is her against her world because of prejudgments due to her skin color. As a result, Elphaba’s powerful vocals, especially in such numbers as Defying Gravity and No Good Deed that emphasize the character’s sense of relying on herself and no one else, are especially poignant.
Because of this, Vosk acknowledges that the role can be vocally challenging, so she keeps her vocals trained for this by equating preparing for a role of Elphaba’s stature to preparing for the Olympics.
“I’m a very big vocal health advocate,” she explains, “Before I had done Elphaba on tour, I trained physically because the voice muscles are very athletic. You have to really train physically first and that strengthens the voice. That is in my opinion what Elphaba and taking on that role is about. If you’re going to be in the Olympics as a sprinter, then you’re going to be training for a long time to be able to sprint as fast as you possibly can and long as you possibly can. For me, I was classically trained, which lends itself really well when you have to belt these kinds of things. I approach it from a classically healthy way versus just yelling. That’ll hurt you. You won’t be able to do 8 shows a week.”
The fact that Wicked has remained a relevant part of theater culture after all these years is certainly telling of the impact that it has had. Vosk believes that the role of Elphaba and her portrayal of her have evolved with the times.
“It was written at a time when it was a very different political climate. Fifteen years later, now that we’re in this climate, it takes on a completely new meaning. I often get the question of do we change some of the lines in the show to represent our current society, and the answer is no. Wherever we are sociologically and societally, it makes sense still. It’s completely something that people come to and they’re very surprised. I think that’s why it’s lasted so long. If you think it’s just because young girls are going to come and see these two women portraying roles that they want to be one day, yes, that is one of the reasons why the show has lasted so long. But also, I get parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who have come to see the show and say ‘Wow. I had no idea that this would touch me in such a way.’ You don’t see a show that’s run 15 years and that’s still able to captivate thousands of people every single night.”
In the musical, Elphaba is constantly ostracized and bullied because of her appearance. Vosk, who was bullied herself growing up, now witnesses how behind the screen bullying has become more rampant, so she uses Elphaba as a symbol for overcoming these hardships.
“It’s very hard to be the only green person onstage. Since I took the role on, that’s something that I take very seriously. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be the only different one. It’s very important for me to play a role where I am clearly the only one with a different color skin and treated badly because of it. It’s very important for me to advocate as much as I can for anybody who feels that they are the only different one or that they keep making mistakes or they can’t seem to get it right or they feel like they are being bullied all the time. If I could take on a platform, that would be what it is, to say ‘It is okay to be yourself. If you can be okay with who you are, then everybody else has to be okay with who you are. No apologies necessary.’”
Now, after 15 years onstage, Wicked is getting a movie adaptation in 2021.
“I think it’s kind of cool. It would be neat to see it on the big screen and be cool to see the aspect of the show that we’ve done come to life. It’s really cool when it comes down to making a film to see more of the behind the scenes stuff.”
Could Vosk possibly be in the running of playing the leading lady onscreen?
“In my wildest dreams, that would be great, but I’m sure that at the end of the day, big names sell tickets to the
movies,” she says, “As much as I would love to do it, and if you put me in the role of one of the Munchkins in the movie I would do it, but the likelihood of that happening is probably no.”
That is okay though, because Vosk is keeping herself busy with other personal projects. In August 2018, she released her own debut solo album called Wild and Free. In it she offers a variety of songs in the Broadway, pop, and rock genres. Fans funded it on Kickstarter in 72 hours and it hit 4 Billboard charts and rose to #16 on iTunes.
“I’m a recording artist at heart,” says Vosk, “I love taking emotion and relaying it through song. Not everyone can get to a Broadway show, but everyone can listen to an album, which I consider my best and most personal project yet. There will be another when I am done with my time at ‘Wicked.’ I’m planning to tour the album as well.”
In addition to her music, another endeavor Vosk would love to partake in if given the chance is the role of Fanny Brice, originated by Barbra Streisand, in the musical Funny Girl. She would also love to originate a role herself.
“Playing Elphaba is one of the coolest things I will have ever done,” says Vosk, “You always hope that there is a show that hasn’t been written yet where you can create and make it your own and become known for a role that you’ve created. There’s something fun in that. That’s the cool thing about this business. You never know what is going to come your way.”