After unsuccessfully entering the Wicked lottery in March 2014, 14-year-old Mikayla Renfrow was on her way out of the Aronoff Center when a man stopped her and her father to ask if she had won a ticket to the show. Luck was on her side, as the man happened to be a donor and asked — pending her father’s approval — if Renfrow could see the show as his guest. While they were waiting for the show to begin, the man told her it might be a good idea to have a backup plan if performing didn’t work out. Eight years later, Renfrow is making her Broadway debut as Nessarose in Wicked. Thank goodness she did not have a backup plan.
Renfrow moved to the Queen City at age 13 and first caught the theatre bug when she volunteered to choreograph a concert at her grade school. Her music teacher quickly noticed her talent and encouraged her to apply to the School For Creative and Performing Arts. From going to SCPA and performing in nearly every local theatre, to majoring in Musical Theatre at CCM, her Cincinnati roots run deep. Outside of the theatre scene, Renfrow also worked at Holy Grail, Simply Zero, and Barre 3 Montgomery as “survival jobs” to save up so that she could pursue her dreams in New York. We caught up with the hometown star before she debuts on May 24. Check out the Q&A below.
Broadway in Cincinnati: What was your first reaction when you heard the news?
Renfrow: This was a very emotional process for me because it felt like a roller coaster. I originally self-taped and then it immediately led to a final callback. It was during one of my shows for Smokey Joe’s at Fulton Theatre, so I couldn’t go. In the back of my brain, I was thinking, “I really feel like I just passed up my Broadway debut. Something in my gut feels like I really passed something I shouldn’t have.” But I didn’t have a choice. It wasn’t like I just said no because I had a doctor’s appointment. It all worked out. They ended up letting me call in instead of doing it in person.
I was in a CVS and I got the call. I had gotten calls from my agents all week, every day thinking it was the call, and then it wasn’t. So, when I was at the CVS, I thought, “What could it possibly be now?” I answered the phone, toilet paper in one hand and chips in the other. They asked if I had done a self-tape that they had been asking for, and I said, “No, I’m going to do it later.” I had a matinee, and then I was going to tape it that night. My agents said, “Well, what if we told you that you don’t have to do this?” I responded with, “What’s wrong? Do they not want me anymore? What happened?” They said, “You got Nessarose on Broadway.” I dropped the toilet paper and started ugly crying. It felt like my whole life zoomed out and my face was tingling, my hands were sweaty, and I couldn’t catch a breath. But I was still in a CVS with toilet paper. So glamorous.
How has the rehearsal process been?
On the second day of rehearsal, we did a run in the rehearsal room and just ran the show. That was day two. I felt like I was going to explode, but it’s been great. Our stage managers and dance captains are crazy, amazing humans. They know every line, every musical beat, every number. If anyone is missing, they can sing any other track, any line. They are superhuman.
I realized the secret to the wheelchair, though. The wheelchair is like a horse. You have to come up to it and say, “Good morning.” Maybe pet the chair. I’m like Marie Kondo. I say, “Thank you for having me. Thank you for letting me sit upon you. Together, we’re going to get through this, and we’re going to have such a good day, chair.” And then, I sit, and I say, “Thank you.” Then another reason it’s like a horse is that if you get stressed, the chair gets stressed. The chair is on a raked (incline) stage, so for whatever reason, if I’m pushing it and it feels that I’m stressed, it’ll go off track suddenly. It’ll skirt to the left or the right, and it’s weird. But if I am calm and I guide it through, it is just fine. So, the chair is my horse. That is a secret, my friends. That is what we learned in week one.
Walking into the Gershwin was also a surreal moment for me, and then the chair too. I do a lot of thanking the space, just sitting on the stage, and thinking of all the people that have walked into this theater. I seriously took my palms on the stage and said, “Thank you.” It makes a big difference and just locks it all in.
You are starting with other new cast members, a fellow newcomer to Wicked: James Gish (Fiyero), and others returning to the show after doing it on the road: Talia Suskauer (Elphaba), Cleavant Derricks (The Wizard), and Clifton Davis (Doctor Dillamond).
Thank goodness it’s not just me. All the leads feel so fresh. Because we’re learning these tracks together, even though it’s not a new show to everyone, it’s a new stage for all of us. So, it feels like I’m not jumping on a treadmill that’s already moving. It’s always going to feel a little bit like that because it’s obviously a long-running show on Broadway, but we’re doing it as a team.
Because of rehearsals, you’ve been getting to watch the show a little bit. What’s been your favorite part to watch?
It’s the dancing for me because I always thought I was going to be in the ensemble as a dancer. All the choreography in Ozdust is stunning. Even as Nessa, when I’m in rehearsal, I’m watching the dance captain and watching every hip, every finger. The Wayne Cilento choreography is so timeless and just genius. There’s also the moment with Elphaba and Glinda in Ozdust when they dance together, and I cry every time. I think maybe that’s because as a dancer, seeing the power of movement and how it brings people together is really moving.
Is there a specific moment that you can’t wait to experience during your debut?
The first one I always pictured was telling my family and friends I always pictured making the call to my dad and my mom saying, “I did it.” That’s probably one of the best parts of it.
As far as the show in general, when I’m going to be standing in the wing, and the overture starts, I am going to cry. That’s number two for sure. Probably singing the end of the opening number and singing “Wicked” then running downstage and the crowd cheering. I’ll be able to see people for the first time. I know that’s going to be a moment for sure. I know I’m playing Nessarose, but that opening number is iconic and so Broadway. I think that is when it’ll sink in.
What are your words of wisdom for Cincinnati theatre kids dreaming about making their Broadway debut?
Take as much class as possible and work with as many people as possible so that you are used to working under different conditions and so that you aren’t used to working one way. I think because I worked with so many different theatres and people, and took so many different classes from different people, I had at least a baseline of how my process worked, and then how I can work my process under different umbrellas. I think some people stick to one training program or one theatre because that’s where they’re most comfortable. Then they never step outside of that box and push outside their comfort zone. Then when you come to New York, it’s a whole new thing. That transition will shock your system more. But if you’re already used to going everywhere, it’s not going to be new to you. It’s just going to be another audition room that you’re walking into. You’ve done this a million times before, you’ve worked at so many different theatres, it’s just another theatre. I try to tell myself that, but you’re going to get nervous no matter what. But I would just say be a sponge and go everywhere.
Last but not least… We have our 5-1-3 questions.
What are your five favorite things?
- A cozy sweater
- Hot beverages like coffee and tea, or even a hot toddy.
- Plants, flowers, and anything having to do with the earth. I love the earth.
- Moving in some capacity, whether that’s dancing, working out, or taking a walk
- Family and chosen family
First Broadway Show!
My first Broadway show was Anastasia with fellow CCM alum Christy Altomare.
How do you take your 3-way? (What’s your Skyline order?)
You start with the oyster crackers and hot sauce. You put a polka dot of hot sauce on your oyster cracker while you’re having a Pepsi. Sometimes I go a little crazy and get a sweet tea with lemon. Then, I get a child’s three-way, a chilito with a side of ranch, and then a cheese coney.
Mikayla Renfrow (Nessarose) Broadway debut! NYC Workshop: Bliss as Princess Kimber Regional: title role in Cinderella (Paramount Theatre), Alice in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (The Muny), Delee in Smokey Joe’s Cafe (The Fulton Theatre), Mary and Eve in Awaited (Crossroads), Kim in Bye Bye Birdie (Incline), Hua Milan in Disenchanted (Carnegie), and Snow White in Sleeping Beauty (Children’s Theatre Cincinnati). Recent grad of CCM.