Feb 28

PerformBefore Dorothy, Wicked Returns

PerformBefore Dorothy, Wicked Returns.

Written by:  Linda A. Jaussi.

The Broadway musical WICKED celebrates its seventh anniversary this March.  I met with Steve Quinn, the company manager at The Gammage Auditorium in Tempe, Arizona, as props and scenery from the road tour were unloaded.  He pointed to a large circular contraption on the stage as it was being hoisted into the air.  “You are just in time to see Glenda’s bubble.”  The bubble looked like heavy steel. I pondered how strong it must be to hold even a petite actress as it carries her through the air.

A large dragon looming, (perhaps it was flying) over the  proscenium arch, was already in place and was the most prominent feature in the set.  It’s wing span filled the stage head.  Company Manager, Quinn explained that set designer, Eugene Lee, saw WICKED as a flashback story that takes place in the time dragon clock.  Lee won a TONY for his work.

The theme, for WICKED, comes from a children’s story called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz written L. Frank Baum in 1900.  He wrote 13 sequels.  Baum worked to get his story on stage.  The Wizard of Oz opened in Chicago in 1902 before going on Broadway.  It toured until 1911.  Then, in 1939 the famous Wizard of Oz film was produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.   There have been many adaptions and versions of the classic Wizard of Oz throughout the years. Based on the book WICKED written by Gregory McGuir, the scene adaption creates OZ some time before Dorothy arrives over the rainbow.

In McGuir’s version, two young women (witches) meet at college.  One is popular, beautiful and petite. The other, a talented witch, had emerald green skin and is not quite so adored.  At first, the coeds did not like each other.  In fact, you could say they loathed each other.  Are things as they appear?  Does having green skin make you a bad person?  It’s a comparable moral reminding viewers that being different, or having disabilities, or special abilities is not a bad thing.  The two roomies learn to respect each other and develop a friendship. Being such a good person, Galinda who later becomes, Glinda, wants to spread her magic and teach Elphaba how to be more popular.

Musician and Lyricist, Steven Schwartz collaborated with the Emmy Award winning writer, Winnie Holzman to develop the plot.  They used the same idea, telling the villains point of view, as McGuir’s book, but varied considerably adding new relationships between the good and bad witches.

WICKED has it’s own language and talking animals.  Dr. Dillamond, for example, is a professor and a goat.  When he disappears from school, questions arise as to his whereabouts.  It seems there is a conspiracy against talking animals.

As the audience explores the story behind WICKED we learn more about “The Wicked Witch of the West.”  The question is presented.  Is she (Elphaba, The Wicked Witch) really wicked?  Is she (Glinda, the Good Witch) really good?  It turns out it’s not easy growing up green.

The set for the story is massive.  It is a huge undertaking to present a top quality performance.  Quinn feels that if the audience is going to pay $100 to watch a show, then they should get $100 worth of show.  The set is all automated and laid out with precise calculations. It takes two and a half days to build the set.  The props are in constant repair.  For instance, the show is re-lamped every six weeks. The set, itself, cost fourteen million dollars and requires fourteen, 52 foot trailers to haul.  The costumes cost 2 million.   Multiply that by three and you have the amount of stage props required for the three Broadways shows running simultaneously in the United States: one on the Broadway stage in New York and two road companies.  There are also different casts performing in other parts of the world.

The road tour travels throughout the nation playing in old vaudeville houses to modern complexes.  The Gammage Auditorium is one the of the better theaters acoustically.  Manager Steve Quinn’s eyes twinkled when he explained the significance of performing in The Gammage.  ” It’s a historic building designed by the great Frank Lloyd Wright. The auditorium is unique.  It has no aisles.”  The seating is arranged in one continuous row from side to side.  The backstage is tight.  It’s is difficult to fit 75 cast and crew.  Local Arizonan’s affectionately refer to The Gammage as the birthday cake building because it looks like a large pink birthday cake.

Many persons accompany the road cast.  The show travels with 100 persons including: cast, make up artists, sound and lighting engineers, management, medical personnel, and a physical therapist.  People do get injured on the road, and the company works to maintain performers well being.

As in most major productions, there are particular moments that stick with us and catch phrases we continue to use, even after the show ends.  This show is filled with moments.  That’s what makes it so popular. There are many different moments.  The directors and managers work to make this show as fun, entertaining, and brilliant as the first show seven years ago.  They want people to find a reason to keep coming back.  Mr. Quinn suggested how wonderful it was to be working in a very successful show in a down economy.

Since the road tour began, Mr. Quinn has worked with 8 different Elphabas, and 7 different Glenda’s.  He explained that it’s a large commitment to tour with a Broadway Musical.  You have to be very dedicated.  You miss out on a lot of birthdays, and funerals.  The cast works six days a week doing 8 shows a week, 52 weeks of the year, covering twelve to fifteen locations.  Before WICKED, Steven Quinn worked with Les Miserables, and Hairspray.

The current cast includes:  Mamie Parris as Elphaba, The Wicked Witch of the West.  Parris is a Belt soprano  from Kansas City Missouri.  Katie Rose Clarke plays Galinda.  The soprano comes from Houston Texas.  Mark Jacoby casts some magic as the Wizard.  He has been in many Broadway productions.  There are 34 cast members and 6 traveling orchestra.  They are joined by 9 contracted local musicians hired by a private contractor.  WICKED opened on February 15th at the Gammage and runs through March 11.  Tickets are available at  http://asugammage.com/shows/2011-12-special-engagements/wicked.