Five Burning Questions with Beautiful Star Jessica Keenan Wynn
Jessica Keenan Wynn is back on Broadway belting out the best pop hits of the '60s and '70s as Cynthia Weil in the hit bio-musical Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Jessica gave a breakout performance as Heather Chandler in off-Broadway's Heathers, and then made her Broadway debut as Cynthia in Beautiful in 2015. Since then, she's returned to the Sondheim Theatre for four more stints as the legendary, Grammy-winning lyricist.
BroadwayBox caught up with Jessica Keenan Wynn to discuss what keeps her coming back to Beautiful, meeting Heathers fans the world over, and her favorite memory from filming Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
1. What is it about Cynthia Weil and the company of Broadway’s Beautiful that keeps you coming back to the show?
It's truly the greatest joy to step into Cynthia’s shoes. If I could take her with me to every other production of anything and everything, I would. I know I'm definitely going to have an element of her that will live with me forever with every role that I do.
Walking into the Sondheim Theatre and being embraced by the community that consists of the crew, the cast and the creatives, it is truly one of the greatest blessings. That's what I look forward to each and every time I've been back. It's that sense of family that you get with shows; this one in particular is quite special. I think it's definitely going to be one of the hardest things to finally say goodbye to come October.
2. Your performance as Heather Chandler in the original off-Broadway production of Heathers was instantly iconic, and the fans have made it legendary. Where is the strangest place you have interacted with a Heathers fan?
When I was shooting Mamma Mia! in London, I found that I had handfuls of people come up to me for the time that I was there and say how much they love Heathers, which is crazy. That means it's an international sensation. They were putting Heathers on in London, and I actually went to go see it—which was just wild in and of itself. But I just find that to this day—almost five years after its closed—I still have people come up to me praising that show and giving me so many beautiful accolades for my performance. And I have to say that's the show that has really stayed with me the longest in terms of fandom, and I am not mad at that at all.
Did you have to go in disguise when you saw it in London? Were you like Patti LuPone at Evita?
No, I wish! Because I've always been wigged, no one really recognizes me unless they actually follow me on social media. (It's so funny—it's like I can never book a job and just have my normal hair.) I was actually just sticking my neck out a little more to be like, ‘Anyone? Does anyone know who I am? Anyone?’ It's funny because in New York I want to hide, but anywhere else I'm like, please come up to me and let's both chat.
3. I lived for performance as Young Tanya in the film Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again! Tell me about the biggest pinch-me moment of that entire experience for you?
I mean I could say shooting the end dance sequence with Cher and the entire legacy cast—which is what we called them. They're not the old cast, they're the legacy cast. I could say walking into that first day of rehearsal and trying on my first pair of ABBA platform boots. But truly, if I really think back on the experience, it was one of the final days in Croatia when the entire cast and crew was there. Our producer, Judy Craymer, threw a big going away party for the Croatian crew and for us, since we'd been there for five weeks. Our director and our editor, Pete, had put together a special cut just for us. It was kind of like a pre-emptive trailer, and they played it outside along this huge fort up on the walls. The stars were out, and it was the first time I had seen myself up on screen in the movie—and in any movie for that matter. And I just started weeping because I just couldn't believe the magnitude of what we were doing. It finally hit me then and there.
4. Between Cynthia Weil, who is so fierce in that show, and then Mamma Mia! and Heathers, you play these strong, fierce women. Is that intentional? Do you like to choose characters that you feel are strong or is it a coincidence?
I guess so. Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back I'd have to say that I'm most influenced by the women in my family. My mother, my aunts, and my grandmother are all fierce, tough, old-Hollywood broads with huge personalities and humor to boot. So, I think just from growing up, not even in their shadow but in their life, somehow it was infused within me to take on their qualities and portray them on stage. I think it is one of the loveliest ways of tipping the hat to them for everything that they have instilled in me. And clearly, they continue to instill in me because I keep pursuing these roles that are essentially them.
5. What was the first musical that you latched onto and felt completely obsessed over?
One hundred percent, it was Meet Me In St. Louis with Judy Garland. I still, to this day, watch that movie every Christmas and cry my eyes out. Judy Garland was my idol when I was growing up, as was Barbra Streisand. And the music in Meet Me In St. Louis just resonated in me. We still sing and hum “The Trolley Song” or “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. And the way that she infused storytelling into her singing and the subtlety that she had really moved me. Still to this day, I hearken back to that song if I'm ever needing to dig deep into a song in order to emote a certain message. It really is a work of art, and I'm going to keep pushing that movie on people until I die.
Get yourself over to Broadway's Sondheim Theatre before October 27 to see Jessica Keenan Wynn as Cynthia Weil in 'Beautiful: The Carole King Musical'.