The road to the hit Broadway musical ‘Wicked’

Like most other Broadway shows, “Wicked,” the hit musical based on characters from “The Wizard of Oz,” was sidelined for more than a year.

But last month, “Wicked”‘s national tour company re-opened in Dallas. The costumes came out of storage; The Good Witch, Allison Bailey, got her crown back; The Wicked Witch, Talia Suskauer, got a wicked shade of green; and the fans showed up in force … even those who’d seen it many times before.

By the start of the first act, the sell-out crowd was jubilant. “It’s good to see me, isn’t it?” said Glinda, the Good Witch, to massive cheers. And by the time the curtain fell, it was hard to tell who was happier, the audience or the cast.

Since “Wicked” first opened in 2003, it’s been seen by more than 60 million people worldwide, and has grossed more than $5 billion. The show is 18 years old, but somehow it still feels new.

L. Frank Baum first published “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in 1900, hailed at the time as a joyous children’s novel. But in MGM’s 1939 movie adaptation, joy often went out the door. Sure, there was Glinda the Good Witch, but the other witch – the one with the bigger part – was lean, mean and Technicolor green.

“I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too! Ha ha ha ha ha!!!”

Correspondent Tracy Smith asked, “In the movie, all you ever hear about the Wicked Witch of the West is, she’s wicked, wicked, wicked, but that’s it.”

“You’re absolutely right,” said author Gregory Maguire. “In fact, Wicked is part of her name, the Wicked Witch of the West. It has a capital W. She doesn’t have a first name. She doesn’t have a backstory, which meant that nobody could say that I got it wrong!”

Maguire is the author of the novel “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” on which the musical is based. He gave her that backstory: who knew she was a do-gooder with glasses?  And that she and Glinda were once roommates?

Maguire also gave her a name: Elphaba. It’s based on the letters L-F-B, the initials of original “Oz” author L. Frank Baum.

“Once I got it, I thought, ‘Every time her name is spoken or sung, I will be tipping my hat to the original person who created her, Lyman Frank Baum,” Maguire said.

The story got the attention of legendary composer Stephen Schwartz, the man who wrote the music and lyrics for a few other Broadway shows, including “Godspell” and “Pippin” – and he thought “Wicked” would work as a musical, too.

Smith asked Schwartz, “I know they’re all your babies, but do you have a favorite number?”

“I do, but I’m not gonna say what it is!” he laughed.

But Schwartz like the song “Popular,” and he knew he wanted actress Kristin Chenoweth to sing it. She recalled: “Stephen Schwartz says, ‘I got this part. It’s one song, you come in and kill it. Just come for the reading. It’s with you in mind. I can’t hear anybody else.’

“I walked in and I sang ‘Popular’ for the first time. And I went, ‘I’m in. I’m in!'”

Chenoweth went on to become the show’s original good witch, Glinda; and the title role of the Wicked Witch went to Broadway veteran Idina Menzel, who said at first she was a little bit shaky.

“I was always afraid I was gonna get fired,” Menzel said. “They were rewriting things all the time, and I wasn’t great at cold readings, so I couldn’t always deliver the new lines perfectly. Just like a mad little student with my loose-leaf script and ripping out pages. And Kristin was so beautiful and so Glinda. Like, just perfection. She always just, her first take on everything was just so funny and so right. And I was just the opposite. I just felt like a big mess.”

But by opening night, she’d channeled all that self-doubt into what would be a Tony-winning character.

“Wicked,” which opened just after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is about questioning authority – what’s good and what’s evil – but it’s also become a beacon for anyone who doesn’t fit the conventional mold.

Chenonweth said, “We live in a society that’s so judgmental. And I’m in the thick of it in this industry. I judge myself harshly. And I have to remind myself, ‘No, no. This is how you’re put together.'”

Smith asked, “And this show strikes a chord with those people, that, ‘Hey, it’s okay if this is how you’re put together’?”

“In fact, it can be wonderful,” Chenoweth replied.

The turning point of the show comes when two unlikely friends have to say goodbye. Lyricist Stephen Schwartz wanted to get the words just right, so he asked his daughter, Jessica, for help: “I went to Jess with a yellow pad in hand and said, ‘I want you to imagine that you were never gonna see your friend Sara again, and you have one chance to tell her what she means to you. What would you say?'”

I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you

To this day, both women say this song has a special place in their hearts.

Menzel said, “It’s always just a beautiful moment for both of us, to kind of be able to look back and know that we were changed for good.”

The “Wicked” North American touring company has been at it for more than a month, but two days from now, the show will finally reopen on Broadway. For fans – and for “Wicked” author Gregory Maguire – it can’t come fast enough.

Smith asked, “Personally, when you see them return, how do you think that’ll feel?”

“I’m going to be in the audience the first night that the lights come up and the monkeys come down their ropes and the whole saga begins again,” Maguire said. “And I suspect I’m gonna pack three or four wads of Kleenex in my pockets, because we need this story still. We’re not done with it.”

“Wicked” returns to Broadway on September 14. For more info:

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