This week, I will share some of my experiences in seeing the show Wicked. I have seen it many times and will talk about three times on Broadway, New York City and one time on the West End, London. For my second article as a member of the Board, I knew that I wanted to do something for one of my favorite musicals. Wicked is special to me; the story and the show never get old. Here are some of the highlights of the unique performances and talented cast members that I have observed over the years.
The first time that I saw the show was in 2005 for my Sweet 16th Birthday. This was a private charter bus trip of about 24 family members and friends. Everyone had such a great time that day and this is an adventure that is still talked about now. I had heard the cast recording since it came out (2003), but seeing the show live was something that was just so magical to me. Sitting in my seat in the Gershwin Theatre before the show started that Saturday afternoon, I was so excited and my party group also vibrated with anticipation for this event! Once the curtain rose, I somehow became even more thrilled and was transported into another world. I still treasure the original Broadway cast poster that I got that day. It is framed and hanging in my room; it evokes all the memories that my family, friends and I made that day.
Shoshana Bean was my first Elphaba, and this was the performance that made me a lifelong follower of her music. Another performer that I loved was Michelle Federer as Nessarose. I loved her characterization of the role as the long-suffering sister to Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. Michelle Federer was the only supporting character from the original Broadway cast in this musical engagement.
The next time that I saw the show on Broadway was in 2006, and I have a framed poster signed by the all the cast members from that performance. That poster benefited Broadway Cares / Equity Fights Aids, a fundraising organization that raises money for research and needed services for people with AIDS, HIV, or HIV-related illnesses. By the second event, one would think that all of the magic of the first time is gone. For me, the second show was just as grand as the initial production. As a special treat, I went on the backstage tour before the show with my Dad. The tour took us through the costume museum at the front of the theatre, and then we saw some of the inner workings behind the scenes that you don’t get to see from the audience perspective. My Dad’s hobby is community theatre lighting and set design, so he was also transfixed by the experience.
My Elphaba this time was Eden Espinosa, and when I say that her rendition of Elphaba is something that needs to be seen live, I mean that her Elphaba is something that you need to see up close and personal. The amount of power and control that she had with her voice was unreal to me. Megan Hilty was Glinda this time, and she is still one of my favorite Glindas that I have seen in the role. What I remember loving most about her performance was the fact that she was so funny in her characterization of Glinda. Jenna Leigh Green, who I had watched on the television series Sabrina the Teenage Witch when I was younger, was Nessarose. I found that her acting, singing and the amount of emotion that Jenna Leigh Green was putting into her character, was on another level that I had not seen before with this role.
In 2013, I saw Wicked in London at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in the West End. I was there on vacation in December with my Mom, my sister and her college roommate, and this show was just the icing on the cake. The Apollo Victoria Theatre opened in 1930, at that time it was used as a movie theater, and it has 2,328 seats. The inside of the theatre has a unique Art Deco design. Past West End productions at the theatre included The Sound of Music, Camelot, Fiddler on the Roof, Starlight Express and Saturday Night Fever. For the last decade, Wicked has been playing at the Apollo Victoria Theatre.
The two leads in this West End production really stood out to me. Willemijn Verkaik as Elphaba was an international vocal powerhouse of talent; I felt as though she was putting tremendous sentiment into her role. Savannah Stevenson was Glinda and incorporated much comedy into her role which made it a truly unique experience. Her mixture of comedy and the vocal talent made her one of my favorite Glindas, even today.
The most recent time that I saw Wicked on Broadway was in 2015, and this was a bus trip that I went on with my college group. Again, my Dad joined me on the trip for the evening performance. At this point, I had seen Wicked at least six times, but who’s counting. One would think that it would get old, but for me and most theatregoers, this show will never get stale and I will never tire of the feelings and the magic that engulf me when I see this musical.
When I got to the theatre and opened my Playbill, to my surprise, Kara Lindsay would be playing Glinda. This role was completely opposite of her character that she performed in Newsies. Kara Lindsay also remains one of my favorite Glindas because like some of the others, she had this mixture of over-the -top comedy and stage presence that really set her apart. Caroline Bowman was Elphaba in this performance, and while Elphaba is a serious character, Caroline Bowman was someone that added some comedic aspects to the character which made for one fantastic performance. My favorite Nessarose that I’ve ever seen live is Catherine Charlebois. What stood out about her performance is that she created the most empathy in her role, more than any Nessarose that I have seen previously.
Wicked is a demanding vocal production and each of the performers needs to bring something uniquely of themselves to the role to make them memorable for the audience. These extraordinary musical and acting artists have done just that for me.
(Photo credit: Matt Crockett)