News Column

'Wicked' story and music lure audience back

May 17, 2013


May 17--Eddie Minarik first heard the song "Defying Gravity" backstage in the green room of his high school theater. The lyrics and melody cast such a spell that it became his dream to see the Broadway musical that "Defying Gravity" comes from: "Wicked."

Tickets appeared under the Christmas tree just a few years later. Minarik saw the touring Broadway production of "Wicked" in Appleton, and it didn't disappoint: On his 18th birthday, he headed straight to a tattoo artist and had "Defy Gravity" tattooed on his right arm.

Like countless others, Minarik, now 21 and living in Madison, will be a repeat customer -- and a spellbound fan -- when he sees "Wicked" next month at the Overture Center. The blockbuster hit, which began its 10th year on Broadway last October, is coming to town for a 24-show run that opens Wednesday.

A prequel to L. Frank Baum's classic "Wizard of Oz," "Wicked" unravels the story of the two friends who became Glinda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West long before Dorothy and Toto appeared on the scene.

It first came to Overture Hall in October 2010, where Broadway fans snatched up nearly every ticket to that 24-performance run.

"People were asking for it again because not everybody got to see it" in 2010, said Tim Sauers, vice-president of programming and community development for Overture.

"'Wicked' is a show that kids through adults gravitate to for certain reasons. It also talks very strongly to teen girls," said Sauers, whose job includes booking Broadway musicals for Overture Center.

"Here's two strong female role models in a story of friendship, and then you have the whole 'Wizard of Oz' back-story that probably attracted people in the first place."

With music by Stephen Schwartz and libretto by Winnie Holzman, the 21/2-hour musical is based on the 1995 novel "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West" by Gregory Maguire. It scooped up three Tony Awards in 2004.

"It's one of the best stories that's out there, because of the quality," Sauers said.

When she comes to Madison later this month, Laura Squire, 18 and a senior at Janesville Craig High School, will be seeing "Wicked" for the eighth time. She first got hooked when she saw the show at Overture Center in 2010, then traveled to Chicago to see it again. When spring break rolled around, she found out where the "Wicked" tour was -- San Antonio, Texas -- and went there on vacation with her parents to see it once more -- and then again, using tickets she won in a lottery.

Then two trips to New York for three performances of "Wicked" and a backstage "Behind the Emerald Curtain" tour. After seeing the show again in Madison this month, Squire will see it in Milwaukee with her parents and her newlywed cousin; the Squire family is giving the bride and groom a pair of tickets as a wedding present.

"I just love live theater because every night it's different," said Squire, who might minor in theater production when she enters UW-Milwaukee next fall.

With "Wicked," "I like the music. I got connected with the girl who played Galinda (aka Glinda to "Wicked" fans) in Madison (in 2010) on Facebook so I've been talking to her" and other cast members online.

Though "Wicked" appeals to a wide demographic, its hold on a younger generation is especially profound, said producer Marc Platt.

"When I was a kid, the family would gather in the living room once a year and watch 'The Wizard of Oz' on TV," he said. "It was sort of a big deal.

"Today, when you ask teenager their reference point about 'The Wizard of Oz,' it isn't Dorothy, which is the center of the movie. It's the Wicked Witch, which is the center of 'Wicked.'"

The musical has taken hold culturally in other ways. The "Wicked" song "For Good" has become a standard at weddings, funerals, graduation ceremonies and other major life events. The character of Elphaba -- the Wicked Witch's younger self -- has become a symbol in anti-bullying campaigns.

"Wicked" centers on the unlikely friendship between two young women -- one green-skinned, intellectual and marginalized, and the other movie-star blonde and popular.

"There's something about the story and the way that it uses very familiar characters, all of whom take unexpected turns," Platt said. "There's something in the psyche of the American culture, I think, that connects us to the Frank Baum characters. But 'Wicked' is a really contemporary story, using those characters, and has struck a chord with people."

While a spectacle and highly entertaining night of theater, he added, "It's a story about getting to the truth of things."

For Kathy Mazur, a painter, photographer and video artist in Madison, "I think 'Wicked' is really about the idea that there is good and evil in all of us, and it is very important for us to look for the very best in each person," she said.

Mazur first heard about the musical from her rabbi. She's since seen "Wicked" twice in Chicago and once in New York. This will be her second time seeing it in Madison.

"We love the music, we love the message," said Mazur, whose daughter sang "For Good" at her Jewish confirmation ceremony this month at Madison's Temple Beth El.

"It's really about the idea that each of us has good in us, and if we seek out the good, we will live better lives," Mazur said. "I also really do think about the Jewish people with this story -- the whole idea of demonizing a group of people in order to gain power. That's very much related to the history of the Jewish people, and that is a theme in the story -- picking on people who are different from you in order to have more power yourself."

"The show teaches a lot of people what the value of friendship really is," said Minarik, the "Wicked" fan whose arm bears the words "Defy Gravity."

"That's why I like it. It's a very humbling show."

For Minarik, the phrase "Defy Gravity" means doing what makes you and other people happy, "and not letting anyone pull you down," he said.

He hasn't collected any "Wicked" memorabilia -- except for his tattoo, "and that's honestly all I need," he said.

"I don't need the materials. I just need something that's going to be there with me forever to remind me to keep defying gravity."


(c)2013 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)

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