On October 30 the musical Wicked celebrated 20 years on Broadway. After the 7719th epic performance, (which included a visit from the show’s original stars Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth), present and prior cast members kicked up their heels at the Edison Ballroom. They also reflected on the impact of being part of Wicked, which holds the record as the 4th longest running show in Broadway history.
The show, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman, is based on Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Wicked is a prequel to the novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and it’s famous 1939 film of the same title.
Wicked tells the story of two witches. There’s the green-skinned, sometimes brooding, brilliant, hopeful and truly misunderstood Elphaba. Then there’s the seemingly perfect, upbeat and popular Glinda. Their lives intersect and they are transformed by one another.
Performed in over 100 cities in 16 countries around the world, the musical has been seen by close to 65 million people. “Wicked has brought so much joy to so many people for years and years and years,” says Kimber Elayne Sprawl who plays Nessarose. “And I love bringing joy to people, especially at a time like this.”
Alyssa Fox, who currently plays Elphaba on Broadway in Wicked at the Gershwin Theater will never forget when she auditioned for the show. “I was living in Oklahoma City, had dropped out of college and was trying to make ends meet,” says Fox who is the first Asian American Elphaba.
Working at the mall and dealing with a mountain of student loan debt, she saw an open call for the show listed on Playbill.com. “I thought, I’m going to use all the money in my bank account and fly up to New York, where I have never been before,” says Fox. “It was a non-equity, non-union call and I auditioned with hundreds of women belting their faces off.”
Ever since she was a child growing up in Garland, Texas Fox had wanted to be a singer. During high school, the moment she heard the Wicked cast album she knew that she was on the right path. “When Idina Menzel sang Elphaba I immediately thought this is what I want to do with my life. I had a clarity that I had not felt about my future before” says Fox.
Until then Fox had not been exposed to much musical theater and Wicked was the first contemporary musical to enter her life. “It touched me immediately. Especially Elphaba’s strength. And she was an outsider who had to find her own way in the world,” says Fox. “It was such a beautiful thing to see how she had the growth that I would like to have as a human being.”
In 2008, after many call backs and a year and a half after that first audition, Fox got the call that she would be understudying Eden Espinosia in the San Francisco company of Wicked. “I had $18 in my bank account. It truly changed my life in a huge way,” she says. “I wasn’t really happy where I was and knew that there was something more out there for me. Wicked became that thing.”
Wicked has changed the lives of many artists. At the show’s 20th anniversary celebration at the Edison Ballroom present and past cast members shared what this two-decade legacy means to them. As William Youmans, who originated the role of Dr. Dillamond and is back playing him says, “To run for twenty years is something. But to run for twenty years at the Gershwin Theatre, the largest theater on Broadway, is a feat beyond words.”
McKenzie Kurtz currently plays Glinda in Wicked on Broadway
“I first discovered Wicked when I was around eight-years-old and had a cd of the original cast recording. I was obsessed and listened to it all the time at my home in Atlanta Georgia. The first time I saw the show I was around nine-years-old. Kendra Kassebaum was my first Glinda. My family and I bought separate tickets so we could get the best seats possible. So I was sitting alone in the Gershwin Theatre as the lights came down after act one. I was sobbing because I was so inspired.
When I booked Wicked I was home in Georgia. I got a call from my agent and manager and was pulling into my driveway. When they told me the news I burst into tears. My parents were home. So I ran in the house and saw my dad first. I told him and then told my mom. We all cried. It was just the most surreal thing.
Laura Bell Bundy was a standby for Kristin Chenoweth, who played Glinda, back in 2003:
“I was taking the train home to Brooklyn from my call back when I got a message from my agent. It said they would like me to be Glinda for Kristin Chenoweth. It was literally opening night and I was going to start work on Tuesday.
Not everybody knows this, but Jerry Mitchell, [the director of Legally Blonde], came to see me in Wicked when I went on. He was casting Legally Blonde and wanted to see if I could carry a show. So Wicked was a stepping stone for Legally Blonde.
The first time I went on in Wicked it was like I was shot out of a cannon. I had never been a standby or understudy before. Coming in to cover was a new sense of responsibility to watch, listen and observe another actor. In this case, the genius Kristin Chenoweth. I wanted to do justice to what she had created. I learned a lot about really respecting standbys and understudies. It’s the hardest job on Broadway.
The first time I went on for Kristin it was 7pm and I was at H& M. I got the call, “you’re going on tonight.” In an hour I was going on stage. I dropped all the clothes and ran out of the store. That night was the first time I went into the bubble. It was too small for me because Kristin is about six inches shorter.”
Kimber Elayne Sprawl currently plays Nessarose in Wicked
“My first introduction to Wicked was when I was in school in Cincinnati at a rehearsal for our play. Some girls were singing “Defying Gravity,” and I didn’t know the song. I said, “oh my God, that’s a cool song. What is it?” And they replied, “uh it’s Wicked.” Like, how do you NOT know it? And they made me feel so silly. I went home and YouTubed it that night.
If someone would have told me back then that I would be in Wicked on Broadway I wouldn’t have believed them. Especially since I’m the first black Nessarose. I didn’t see anyone who looked like me in this show. But now, little girls who look like me maybe can see themselves up there. That is everything to me.”
William Youmans, who plays Dr. Dillamond, originated the role on Broadway 20 years ago.
“I had just been doing a show at Lincoln Center. I got the sides [or a piece of the script] for this part. I had the music director of that other show to teach me the song. And I thought, maybe I could do this.
I went in for the audition a week later and thought, I guess that went pretty well. When I got home and got a call that I got the part. I couldn’t believe it. I broke down in tears. Nothing like that had ever happened to me. I had some nice featured chorus roles—in Titanic, Big River, La Boheme. They were memorable. But I had never had a principal part in the original cast of a Broadway show. It was life-changing. And I had no idea what a blockbuster this thing was. Wicked is the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me.”
Alli Mauzey played Glinda in Wicked and now stars in Kimberly Akimbo on Broadway
“Tonight feels like I’m at a high school reunion with all my Wicked family. I was in Wicked on and off for about 10 years. So it’s just so great to come back here and see everybody.
When I booked Wicked, I was living in Los Angeles and thought I was auditioning for the Los Angeles company. So when I got the call that they wanted to hire me for the Broadway company, I was shocked. I had done Hairspray on Broadway, but this was my first principal contract. Glinda is the innocent life of the party and I love how much fun she has. She’s well intentioned even though she has some stuff to learn. And she’s capable of learning and transforms, which is a very redeeming quality.”