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'Wicked' Turns 15: Elphaba Through the Years

Category Broadway

|by Mark Robinson |


A look back at 10 actresses who have defied gravity

Wicked is turning 15 this October 30th. The musical, with a score by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman, is based on the Gregory Maguire novel of the same name, which imagines an alternative version of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Wicked tells the story of Elphaba (a.k.a. The Wicked Witch of the West), who proves to be the story’s determined heroine, rather than its notorious villain. In celebration of Wicked’s anniversary, we’re taking a look back at some of the talented ladies who have inhabited this tour-de-force role for the last decade-and-a-half – and their renditions of Elphaba’s signature songs.

Many high-flying actresses have inhabited the role of Elphaba over the course of ‘Wicked’’s Broadway run (Photos: Joan Marcus)

Many high-flying actresses have inhabited the role of Elphaba over the course of ‘Wicked’’s Broadway run (Photos: Joan Marcus)

Idina Menzel

It all started in 2003, with Idina Menzel playing the misunderstood Witch of the West. When the musical opened on Broadway on October 30th, Menzel, with her piercing eyes, powerhouse voice and significant acting chops, took the role to the Tony Awards, winning Best Actress in a Musical. Menzel had already delighted audiences as Maureen in the original Broadway production of Rent (1996), and would go on to star in the 2014 musical If/Then. She would also become known for playing the voice of Elsa in the 2013 Disney animated blockbuster film, Frozen, in which she sang the Oscar-winning “Let It Go.”

 

Shoshana Bean

Shoshana Bean was the first actress to fly into the role of Elphaba after Idina Menzel departed. With big shoes to fill, she took the stage on January 11, 2005, where her vocal pipes rivaled her predecessor, infusing “Defying Gravity” with explosive electricity. Bean had previously originated the role of Shelley in the musical Hairspray, while understudying the roles of Tracy Turnblad, Velma Von Tussle and Prudy Pingleton. She also appeared in the 2004 production of Hair.

 

Eden Espinosa

Eden Espinosa had no trouble stepping into a role originated by Idina Menzel, having replaced her as Maureen in the original Broadway production of Rent. On January 10, 2006, she assumed the role of Elphaba. Prior to that, she had also played Brooklyn in the original 2004 company of the musical Brooklyn, and then played Elphaba for Wicked’s First National tour during its San Francisco run from August 5 to September 11, 2005. This would ultimately lead to her magical turn in the Broadway production.

 

Ana Gasteyer

Most audiences knew Ana Gasteyer from her years on the popular late night show Saturday Night Live, where she played (among other quirky characters), a radio host in a series of popular NPR sketches with actress Molly Shannon. October 10, 2006 was Gasteyer’s chance to don the green makeup and play Elphaba on Broadway. She was no stranger to the Great White Way, having appeared as Columbia (as a replacement) in the Circle in the Square production of The Rocky Horror Show. After Wicked, she would appear in revivals of the musical The Threepenny Opera and the play The Royal Family.

 

Julia Murney

No wizard that there is or ever was can match the power of the vocal pyrotechnics of Julia Murney, who took over the role of Elphaba on January 9, 2007. In 2000, Murney played Queenie in the Andrew Lippa version of the musical The Wild Party, receiving a Drama Desk nomination for her efforts. In 2005, she was among the talented ensemble of Broadway performers appearing in the musical Lennon, an exploration of the life and songs of singer/songwriter John Lennon. In 2013, Murney received a second Drama Desk nomination, this time for Outstanding Actress in a Play for her role as Tami in Falling.

 

Stephanie J. Block

By the time Stephanie J. Block would assume the role of Elphaba on October 9, 2007, the actress had already proven herself as a Broadway mainstay. She had originated the supporting role of Liza Minnelli in the Broadway production of The Boy from Oz (which, coincidentally, opened in the same season as Wicked). She received her first Tony nomination for the effort. Block would move from supporting player to lead in her next Broadway outing, The Pirate Queen. Since leaving her mark on the role of Elphaba, Block has appeared in 9 to 5, Anything Goes (replacing Sutton Foster), The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Tony nomination) and Falsettos (Tony nomination). This season, she will come to Broadway in The Cher Show, as one of the trio of actresses who will portray the titular superstar.

 

Mandy Gonzalez

Making her Broadway debut in 2000 in the ill-fated musical Dance of the Vampires, originating the character of Sarah, may not have been the most auspicious debut for Mandy Gonzalez, but that has hardly detracted from her career. She went on to play Amneris during the run of the Elton John/Tim Rice musical Aida, then was part of the company of Lennon. In In the Heights, she originated the role of Nina, staying with the production for almost two years. It was inevitable that she eventually join Wicked, since she had been involved in early readings of the show as an ensemble member. On March 23, 2010, she stepped into the shoes of Elphaba, claiming her first starring role and giving audiences a true taste of her myriad talents. She won the 2010 Broadway.com Audience Award for Best Female Replacement. She is currently playing Angelica Schuyler in the Lin-Manuel Miranda megahit Hamilton.

 

Teal Wicks

Hot on the tail of Mandy Gonzalez as Elphaba was Teal Wicks. Joining the New York production on February 11, 2011, Wicks had already defied gravity in the role in San Francisco and Los Angeles. She played Emma Carew in the 2013 revival of Jekyll & Hyde opposite Constantine Maroulis and Deborah Cox. She originated the role of Mary Barrie in the Broadway production of Finding Neverland (2015), and stayed for the show’s entire run. Wicks will join Wicked alumnus Stephanie J. Block in the forthcoming jukebox musical The Cher Show, each one-third of the trio playing the unforgettable pop star Cher. 

 

Lindsay Mendez

The 2018 Tony winner for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for in Carousel, Lindsay Mendez played the lady with the pointed hat starting May 28, 2013. Mendez, who is known for making singularly unique choices onstage, not to mention possessing a killer belt, had originated the role of Jan in the 2007 revival of Grease, was part of the company in 2011 revival of Godspell and appeared as Laura in 2017’s Significant Other. It is, however, in her Tony-winning turn as Carrie Pipperidge in the 2018 Carousel revival that Mendez made her biggest splash.

 

Jessica Vosk

Our latest Elphaba is none other than Jessica Vosk, who spent a year touring the country in the role and, as the video above explains, has forged perhaps the most unique path to the Broadway stage of any Elphaba thus far. Bringing a magnetic intensity to the part, Vosk exchanged the road for Broadway on July 17, 2018. Jessica Vosk also holds the distinction of entering Wicked while her new album Wild and Free was climbing the Billboard chart. Before touring in Wicked, Vosk had appeared on Broadway as a swing in The Bridges of Madison County, as Miss Bassett in the original cast of Finding Neverland and as Fruma-Sarah in the 2015 revival of Fiddler on the Roof.

Mark Robinson is the author of the two-volume encyclopedia The World of Musicals, The Disney Song Encyclopedia, and The Encyclopedia of Television Theme Songs. He maintains a theater and entertainment blog at markrobinsonwrites.com.

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