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10 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘Wicked’

Category Broadway

|by David Sheward |

As 'Wicked' celebrates a decade on Broadway, here are 10 amazing facts about the megahit show, from how the Wicked Witch got her name to just how much dry ice it takes to create all the drama on stage

Wicked, the musical based on Gregory Maguire’s novel about the “true” history of the witches of Oz, celebrates the 10th anniversary of its Broadway opening, appropriately enough, on Oct. 30, the night before Halloween. Extremely popular with families — especially those with little girls — it often ranks as the top-earning show on Broadway in any given week. The show is also full of bona fide hits such as “For Good,” “Popular,” “The Wizard and I,” and the show-stopping “Defying Gravity.” The story follows the political and social machinations behind the scenes of the Wizard’s rule in Oz before Dorothy’s arrival. Elphaba, later known as the Wicked Witch of the West, is really a compassionate advocate for the underprivileged in the magical land while Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, is not as angelic as she seems.

To celebrate 10 years of Wicked musical magic on Broadway, here are 10 things you didn’t know about this enchanting show.

Lindsay Mendez during her stint as Elphaba in 'Wicked' (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Lindsay Mendez during her stint as Elphaba in 'Wicked' (Photo: Joan Marcus)

1. Composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz first learned of Wicked while he was on vacation in Hawaii. While on a boat ride, one of his fellow passengers, singer Holly Near, mentioned she was reading Gregory Maguire’s novel and loved it. Schwartz immediately saw the musical possibilities and later called his lawyer to obtain the rights. Maguire had already signed over the rights to Universal for a live-action feature. The songwriter persuaded both the original author and the movie studio that his stage version would be the proper vehicle for bringing to the story to life, and Universal signed on as joint producer of the stage adaptation.

2. Wicked initially received mixed reviews from the critics (Ben Brantley of the New York Timescalled it a “sermon” with a “generic” score) and lost the Tony Award for Best Musical to Avenue Q. But has gone on to become one of Broadway’s most popular and top grossing shows. Since its New York premiere a decade ago, Wicked has grossed more than $3.1 billion worldwide.

3. By the end of 2013, the global phenomenon will have been performed in more than 100 cities in 13 countries around the world and has thus far been translated into five languages: Japanese, German, Dutch, Spanish and Korean. Wicked currently has eight productions around the world besides Broadway: London, Tokyo, Auckland, Seoul and Mexico City, plus a U.K. Tour and two concurrent North American National Tours.

4. Winnie Holtzman’s book for the musical is more family-friendly than Maguire’s somewhat darker novel. In the novel, two supporting characters, Madame Morrible and Doctor Dillamond, are killed, but in the show, they arrested and fired respectively. In Maguire’s version, Elphaba’s sister Nessarose is born with no arms, but is able to walk; in the musical, she has all her limbs, but is wheelchair-bound.

5. The Wicked Witch is not named in the original L. Frank Baum novel. Gregory Maguire invented the name for her using Baum’s initial — L.F.B. — Elphaba.

6. Rather than foundation, the emerald makeup for Elphaba isMAC’s landscape Green eyeshadow. Wide makeup brushes are employed to cover her face, neck and hands and smaller brushes fill in any blank spots.

7. The show has so much prominence that Elphaba’s costume and broom are now on display in the American Stories exhibit at Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. The items were presented to the museum’s popular history collection by the show’s costume designer Susan Hilferty, who won the Tony for her creations.

8. At her second audition for the role of Elphaba, Idina Menzel’s voice cracked badly on the ending high note in the big number “Defying Gravity” and she cursed. She went home in tears, convinced she had lost the part, but director Joe Mantello and Stephen Schwartz found the mistake endearing. She eventually was cast and went on to win the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for the role.

9. It takes a lot to put the show on every night. Literally. The electronics department uses enough power to supply approximately 12 homes, while the carpentry department has about 175,000 pounds of scenery to wrangle, which is automated by five miles of cable. In addition, about 250 pounds of dry ice has to be deployed to create the drama onstage.

10. The high point of the show, both figuratively and literally, arrives at the end of the first act with the climactic “Defying Gravity” number. Elphaba finally realizes her powers and seems to ascend from the Wizard’s palace without the aid of wires. Technical production manager Jake Bell explained to us how the trick is done. Elphaba runs across stage to a hidden deck and then takes off. And it’s operated by the actress herself. “When she steps into the device, it locks, she standing on a steel plate, and the whole thing lifts her off the ground and it looks like her skirt is extending forever and she’s flying,” says Bell. “She’s completely safe, the device is locked around her waist and there’s no way for her to get out unless she presses the release button. There are all kinds of safety mechanisms in the unit to make sure it does not fail.”

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