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Shenendehowa grad’s ‘Wicked’ experience drawing to a close

Shenendehowa grad’s ‘Wicked’ experience drawing to a close

Getting role of Elphaba on Broadway "was beyond my wildest dreams," says Hannah Corneau
Shenendehowa grad’s ‘Wicked’ experience drawing to a close
Hannah Corneau as Alphaba in "Wicked" on Broadway.
Photographer: Joan Marcus

Hannah Corneau isn't quite sure what the future holds, but after nine months on Broadway as one of the most iconic characters in theater history, she should be able to pretty much write her own ticket.

"It is my mission to be selective, purposeful and intentional with what I do next," said Corneau, a Clifton Park native and 2007 Shenendehowa High graduate whose life-changing run as Elphaba in "Wicked" comes to a close on Feb. 23. "I've had a great opportunity to play a wonderful and interesting woman, a woman with great heart, and it's that kind of character and projects like 'Wicked' that I'll be trying to find out there."

A 2011 graduate of Syracuse University, Corneau began playing Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, in May of 2019. The story is both a prequel and sequel to Frank Baum's "The Wizard of Oz," and since its opening in October of 2003, with Idina Menzel as Elphaba and Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda, it has been one of the biggest blockbusters in Broadway history.  The original show earned 10 Tony nominations and three wins, including Best Actress for Menzel, and in October of 2019, with Corneau and Ginna Claire Mason in the two leads, "Wicked" became the fifth longest-running musical of all time, passing "Les Miserables."

"It's been such an honor to play the role but very challenging at the same time," said Corneau, the youngest of two sisters whose mom, Mildred, still lives in Clifton Park. "The way we use our voice and our body, it truly is an Olympian effort every night. As a performer the typical contract is for nine months because you can only do it for so long. It's been amazing, but now I'm looking forward to what comes next."

Corneau was noticed by "Wicked" producers while she was performing as early 20th century writer Edna St. Vincent Millay in "Renascence" at the Abrons Art Center on the Lower East Side.

"It's a brilliant coming of age story about this wonderful and prophetic poet," Corneau said of Millay, who lived part of her life in Austerlitz in Columbia County. "It was amazing to experience this new musical by Carmen Dean and Dick Scanlan, and I just felt so fortunate to have been able to play that kind of character. I loved everything about her."

Scanlan, who also wrote "Thoroughly Modern Millie," told Playbill Magazine in 2018  when the show came out that he loved everything about Corneau's audition.

"There was no callback," he said. "We just knew it. I think that's only happened to me once before."

Evidently, the casting directors at "Wicked" felt the same way about Corneau, who had previously auditioned for the role of Elphaba five years ago when she was 24 but didn't get a callback.

"I was honored to get the audition this time, and I just thought to myself, 'well, I'm 29 now let's just go in and see what happens,'" she remembered. "It's such a physical role, they usually have a few people on standby for the Broadway show and when they take it on tour. So that's kind of what was in my mind. That was last February. I gotta phone call the next week from my agent telling me that I would  be playing the part of Elphaba on Broadway, and that rehearsals started in April and I would join the show in May. I couldn't believe it. I felt good about my audition, but I didn't think I'd get a phone call the next week telling me that in May I would be doing it on Broadway. That was beyond my wildest dreams."

With her "Wicked" experience about to end, Corneau should have plenty of options available to her, and if Hollywood comes calling she'll be happy to listen to what they have to say.

"Of course I'm open to every opportunity out there, so I'm certainly not discounting television or film," she said. "But it's going to be more about the role and the material. It's been extremely fulfilling to play those woman in 'Wicked' and 'Renascence,' and I know those kind of roles don't come along that often, but those are the kind of stories I'll be looking for. Stories about women with great heart and strong viewpoints who go on wonderful journeys."

As much as life has changed for Corneau, in some ways it's not that different. It was back in February of 2019, before her "Wicked" audition, that Corneau moved into a small Manhattan apartment with fellow actor-director Max Sterling, and the pair have no plans on moving anytime soon.

"He is an amazing artist, a completely multifaceted human being, and we're still in our apartment because we like being there," said Corneau. "The majority of changes in my life seem to happen within my own mind. Right now there's a not a whole lot that's different in my life."

People, however, at least Broadway fans, are beginning to notice her, sometimes on the street and sometimes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and History.

"Max and I are members at the Met because we love the place, and the other day two people came up to me and said, 'are you Elphaba?' so that was kind of neat," said Corneau. "They had seen the show just a few days before. That was special. It's a true honor to be recognized at the Met."

Hannah Corneau's career at a glance:

2007 - Graduates from Shenendehowa High School.

2011 - Graduates from Syracuse University.

2012 - Joins cast of "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" at the Bailiwick Theatre in Chicago.

2013-2014 - Joins cast of "Fiddler on the Roof" at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, Illinois, and at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.

2013-2014 - Plays Ruth Stern in the world premiere of Barry Manilow's "Harmony" at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta and the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.

2015 - Joins cast of "Daddy Long Legs" at Davenport Theatre (off-Broadway) in New York.

2015 - Plays Fantine in "Les Miserables" at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, Illinois.

2016 - Plays Eva in "Evita" at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, Illinois.

2016-2017 - Plays Yitzhak in the national touring production of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."

2018 - Plays Edna St. Vincent Millay in "Renascence" at the Abrons Arts Center (off-Broadway) in New York.

May 2019-Feb. 23, 2020 - Plays Elphaba in "Wicked" at the Gershwin Theatre in New York.

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