June 06--John Davidson leapt at the chance to go off to be the wizard in Wicked.
"I've always looked for those roles that are a twinkle in the eye, and the wizard is one of the most fun parts in the show to play," said Davidson, a Denison University graduate.
"I like roles where you're able to bamboozle someone."The Broadway musical, which last played here in 2010, is returning for its third visit. The national tour will open tonight for a multiweek run in the Ohio Theatre.Since he moved to New York after graduating from college in the early 1960s, Davidson has always looked for such "bigger-than-life" charmers.
"The Wizard of Oz is a con man, like Harold Hill in The Music Man. I also played Starbuck in 110 in the Shade (the musical of The Rainmaker), and he's a con man, too," he said.
"Of course, they're all con men with a heart. You have to have some heart to make a con man multidimensional."
Davidson was in the off-Broadway New York run of the musical The Fantasticks when he heard in January about the opportunity to play the not-so-wonderful Wizard of Oz in Wicked.
The wizard isn't who he initially seems to be in the quasi-prequel to The Wizard of Oz. Now approaching its 10th anniversary, with almost 4,000 performances on Broadway, Wicked offers a clever coming-of-age saga about two rival schoolgirls who become friends and grow up to become Glinda the Good and Elphaba, Wicked Witch of the West.
"Wicked is a phenomenon. It has tremendous spectacle but also tremendous heart," Davidson said.
"The first thing that attracted me was the inventive music, which is woven into the show so well."
Adapted by composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz (Pippin, Godspell) and author Winnie Holzman from Gregory Maguire's revisionist novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, the musical explores the theme of appearance versus reality.
"The wizard says that the truth is just what everyone agrees on: 'Where I come from, we believe a lot of things that aren't true. We call it history,'" Davidson said.
"I think that's a great comment on the history and mythology we teach in our schools about George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and every major historical figure. It's just what everyone has agreed, . . . but it may not be the truth."
Davidson, who took over the role in April, plans to continue with the tour through February.
"John brings a natural leadership to the company from his years of experience, not only on TV but having toured in theater," Wicked company manager Steve Quinn said by email.
"He's always ready to give 100 percent. . . . John's wizard has terrific energy. Every actor who has played the wizard has a fresh take. Our directors let them find the character from within themselves."
The Pittsburgh native, 71, appreciates such roles after an early career spent largely playing innocent young men."When I first started in the business," he said, "I did a couple of Disney films and played a lot of Curly in Oklahoma! It was a lot of boy-meets-girl, boy-gets-girl, but there is so much more fabric in someone trying to con someone."
Although the wizard appears in only three scenes (and sings the songs Sentimental Man and Wonderful) in Wicked, Davidson strives to make them count.
"It's a great challenge to win over Elphaba in my dramatic moment in the second act, when I'm trying to get her confidence and trying to get her to stay in Oz and help me make Oz a better place," he said.
"There's always some heart in a con man. That's what makes it interesting. . . . The wizard has no magic powers but finds himself in this position. Why? Because people want to be conned. People like to be taken for a ride."
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