December 10, 2018

Marissa Jaret Winokur Channels Good Witch in ‘Wonderful Winter of Oz’

Marissa Jaret Winokur. Photo by F. Scott Schafer

Since her breakout Tony-winning debut on Broadway in “Hairspray” in 2002, Marissa Jaret Winokur has appeared in movies (“Fever Pitch”), TV series (“Retired at 35,” “Melissa & Joey,” “Playing House”), competed on “Dancing With the Stars” and won “Celebrity Big Brother.” Now she’s returning to the musical theater stage as the good witch Glinda in “The Wonderful Winter of Oz,” a Lythgoe Family Panto production opening Dec. 15 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

Blending Frank Baum’s story and characters from “The Wizard of Oz” with well-known modern pop songs, the holiday show stars Mackenzie Ziegler (“Dance Moms,” “Dancing With the Stars: Juniors”) as Dorothy and Kermit the Frog as the Wizard.

“It’s broad and funny and has music everybody will know,” Winokur told the Journal. “It’s a good theater experience for young kids because if they’re not sitting still it doesn’t matter. They don’t have to sit quietly. They can boo and cheer. There’s a lot of audience participation.”

Growing up watching “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Muppet Show” on TV, Winokur didn’t hesitate when she got the offer to participate. “We were all star-struck by Kermit the Frog at the photo shoot. Getting to sing with Kermit is so exciting for me,” she said. And she’s just as thrilled to don her extravagant Glinda gear. “The costumes are amazing. They come from London,” she said. “They’ve spared no expense.”

Winokur said she’s putting her own mother figure take on the character. “I want her to be like a Jewish mother, taking care of Dorothy,” she said.  Fittingly, she sings, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from “Carousel” to her. 

Off stage, Winokur is the mother of 10-year-old Zev, and she’s been stressing over what to get the sports-loving boy for Hanukkah. “When I was growing up we didn’t do presents for Hanukkah. We just lit the candles. It was very much about religion and family. Birthdays were when we got our presents,” she said. 

Winokur is already planning for Zev’s bar mitzvah, she said. “My sister has a daughter who is the same age and we’ve talked about going to Israel to do the [b’nai mitzvot] there,” she said. “That would be my dream. I’ve never been.”

A New York City native and now a San Fernando Valley resident, Winokur grew up the youngest of four children in a close-knit family that valued Jewish traditions. “I identified with being Jewish when I was young and really enjoyed that,” she said. “We had a lot of close friends who were like family that we spent holidays with, and that’s what made me who I am. For me, Judaism is about tradition and family,” she said. “It’s less about reading the Torah and more about being part of a community and giving back and being a good person.”

Fostering a sense of community for her son is important to Winokur, “whether it’s at temple, school or at home,” she said. “Our house is always open for friends and family. There’s always someone living in our guest room – an unemployed actor, a divorcée, someone who needs to get back on their feet. My son sees that we’re always giving and helping other people.”

Winokur has been married for 12 years to writer Judah Miller, the showrunner on HBO’s “Crashing.” However, they met six years beforehand. “I hadn’t done ‘Hairspray’ yet, he was an executive’s assistant,” she said. “We’re not the same people we were when we met, but we’ve learned together and let each other change and grow, and we’ve been there for the highs and lows. He’s not just there for me when I’m successful. He’s there for me when I’m falling on my face, too.”

Over the past year, Winokur made guest appearances on “Crashing,” shot the films “Divos!” in which she plays a nun, and “A Very Nutty Christmas,” a Lifetime movie airing Nov. 30 with Melissa Joan Hart and Barry Watson, in which she plays a bakery owner. She also has an upcoming guest appearance on ABC’s “A Million Little Things.” Onstage, she recently  was involved in “The Unauthorized Musical Parody of Stranger Things” and directed a musical version of “Bridesmaids.” 

She considers “Hairspray” the highlight of her career. “Nothing comes close,” she said, but she’s also proud that she did “Celebrity Big Brother” and “Dancing With the Stars.” 

“I had the time of my life,” Winokur said. “I don’t take my career so seriously that I have to be doing a hit show on Broadway.  I want to work and be social and have fun.” She hopes to direct more and bigger musical theater productions, and plans to star in a revival of “Gypsy” one day. “My son is my priority so I can’t go to New York right now. But in eight years, I can do whatever I want,” she said. “I’m going to be such a good
Mama Rose.”


“The Wonderful Winter of Oz” runs Dec.15-20 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

Read more from the 2018 Holiday Arts & Entertainment Edition here.