Destination: The Land Of Oz
A “Wicked” Behind-the-scene Theater Experience
For a memorable journey to the Land of Oz, you don’t have to follow the Yellow Brick Road. You just have to travel down Hollywood Boulevard to the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, where the mega-hit musical Wicked is being presented.
For an extended stay in Oz, Wicked fans can enjoy a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the wonderful world of wizards and witches by taking the “Behind the Emerald Curtain” tour at the theatre before the show. The insiders’ experience is only available on certain days at 5pm, before the evening performance, and is a real thrill for theater-lovers of all ages.
Two Wicked cast members give a 90 minute tour and lecture. They talk about the creative journey that has made the show into one of the most popular and beloved musicals for a new generation of theater goers. It was wonderful to learn interesting details about what it takes to make the world of Oz come to life eight times a week at the Pantages from Matthew Stocke (who plays the Witch’s father) and Laura Dysarczyk (a “swing” performer who sometimes plays Nessarose or the Witch’s Mother). During a question and answer session, Matt and Laura shared personal anecdotes about life on the stage and being part of the musical phenomenon.
They presented an up-close look at some of the beautifully detailed costumes created by Tony-winner Susan Hilferty. Laura noted, “Each costs thousands of dollars to be handmade, even for the ensemble players.” Some of the show’s props and wigs were also on display, along with Tony-winner Eugene Lee’s set model for the production. It was like being part of the creative team which was assembled by producer Marc Platt, a major creative force over at Universal Studios.
In a video played for the tour group, Platt explained how he was intrigued by Gregory Maguire's novel inspired by The Wizard of Oz. Long before Dorothy drops in, two girls meet in the land of Oz. Elphaba (passionately played by Eden Espinosa), born with emerald-green skin, is fiery and misunderstood. Glinda (played with infectious perky energy by Megan Hilty) is blonde, popular and very ambitious. Wicked tells the story of their remarkable odyssey, how these two unlikely friends grow to become the Wicked Witch of the West, and Glinda the Good Witch.
Platt wanted to develop it for a film project. But then composer Stephen Schwartz (of Godspell and Pippin fame) asked him to consider turning it into a musical. “Something just clicked, and I immediately had an idea of what it should sound like,” said Stephen, who went on to write the Grammy-winning music and lyrics for Wicked. When I chatted with him, he was very humble about his success, telling me, “I never thought that I’d capture lightning in a bottle again in my life.”
The book was adapted for the stage by Winnie Holzman, who received a Tony nomination and a Drama Desk award for her work on Wicked. She’s also famous for her television work, creating the acclaimed My So-Called Life series, and writing for thirty-something, among her many credits. Winnie said she never wanted to contradict the movie The Wizard of Oz, but took a different point of view. She told the story of “Glinda and Elphaba, coming from different backgrounds to form a really strong bond. This musical is about these two women finding each other as friends. It’s unusual. I don’t think there’s ever been a musical that explores the friendship of two women like this.”
Platt said, “Stephen, Winnie and I always knew there was something magical about this idea, but I don’t think any of us were prepared for the overwhelming response from the audience. And the overwhelming emotional impact it had on us.”
On the behind the scenes tour, I discovered that Platt, Schwartz and Holzman are the brains, heart and courage that brought together the untold story of the witches of Oz, for all of us to enjoy the magic of Wicked.
Meanwhile, I caught up with the enormously talented Kristin Chenoweth at the recent TV press tour. Kristin originated the role of Glinda on Broadway, and this season she's been seen starring in the ABC series Pushing Daisies, the best new show of the fall season. Kristin told me she's "attached" to the project when Universal decides to make Wicked into a feature film. That'll be popular!