We all know the Wicked Witch of the West. You know, the deep-voiced, creepy-looking old woman famous for her “I’ll get you, sweetie. And your little dog too,” from the classic 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz.” But there is more to the story.
“Wicked,” the hit Broadway musical making its third visit to Spokane, tells the story of Oz before Dorothy and Toto take part in a tornado and land in Munchkinland. Based on the 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire, “Wicked” centers on future evil witch Elphaba, a young woman who has an inquisitive mind and a natural affinity for witchcraft.
At school, nerdy Elphaba strikes up an uneasy friendship with the beautiful and popular Galinda – later Glinda, the Good Witch of the South – as she struggles to find her place in the changing world all around her.
For Talia Suskauer, the actress playing Elphaba on the current US tour, what makes Elphaba so appealing to portray is that she’s so well-known in pop culture. The public has a perception of her from at least one angle.
“From the start, she becomes fascinating to the public because you think you know her, but you realize very quickly that the second she comes off the stage, and the public is touched by her, they are touched by a smiling, fresh-faced, hopeful young student,” Suskauer said. “And immediately they’re like, ‘Wait, who is that?
The show also touches on larger themes, as we watch this person “evolve, or evolve depending on how you see her, into the person we all know as the Wicked Witch of the West,” Suskauer said. Perhaps, she added, audiences can develop a different perception of what’s good and what’s bad “and how someone comes to have that label imposed on them.”
She added, “She is just incredibly relatable. She’s weird, she’s quirky, she’s feisty, she stands up for what she believes in, she’s a total jerk and I think she’s very adorable. I think anyone who comes to the show can relate to her. That’s the point.
The musical, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Winnie Holzman, made its Broadway debut in 2003, starring Idina Menzel as Elphaba (in a Tony-winning performance) and Kristin Chenoweth in the role of Gallinda. The show was a huge success, earning 10 Tony nominations and sparking several international productions. In less than 13 years, it generated $1 billion in revenue.
“Wicked” makes its third appearance in Spokane starting next Wednesday. The original cast recording is among the best-selling Broadway albums in history and features one of the best songs released from Broadway in the last 20 years. Long before Menzel urged us to “Let It Go,” she captivated audiences with “Defying Gravity” — a song by TimeOut New York called “the first great power ballad of the 21st century on Broadway.”
Even if people have never seen the show, Suskauer said, they’ve probably heard that song, and when the opening chords play, sometimes the audience is so quiet, and other times there’s a gasp. audible excitement.
“I saw the show as a kid with my mom and my sister, and I remember seeing ‘Defying Gravity’ for the first time and seeing this girl go up in the air, and I never had anything seen from such.” Suskauer said. “It’s literally breathtaking. They put on a breathtaking show on stage.
“Not only is the song so compelling because it’s about a woman embracing her uniqueness and strength and really stepping into her power…this song heals people, and I don’t take it lightly. Being able to sing it every night is an honor.
“Besides, flying every night is so cool. It’s as cool as people think it would be. The tour cast is joined by two acclaimed Broadway veterans, Cleavant Derricks as the wizard and Clifton Davis as Dr. Dillamond.
Davis had lead roles on the sitcoms “That’s My Mama” and “Amen” and recurring roles on “Madam Secretary” and “Godfather of Harlem.” His film credits include Oliver Stone’s “Any Given Sunday” and Bill Duke’s “Cover”. On Broadway, he was nominated for a Tony in 1972 for the rock musical adaptation of “Two Gentlemen of Verona”, and he originated the role of the sultan in “Disney’s Aladdin” in 2014. He also wrote the song “Never Can Say Goodbye,” which the Jackson 5 rocketed to number two on the charts in 1971.
Derricks won a Tony in 1982 for his performance as James “Thunder” Early in “Dreamgirls”, and he was nominated again in 1986 for “Big Deal”. He also acted in the “Sliders” series of the late 1900s and appeared in the films “Moscow on the Hudson”, “The Slugger’s Wife” and “Carnival of Souls”.
For Suskauer, working with actors like these is something she enjoys and never forgets.
“There’s a scene just the three of us, me, Cleavant and Clifton, and sometimes I zoom out and I’m like, ‘You’re on stage with two Broadway legends, television legends and culture legends American “”, she mentioned. “And it never gets old for me. I learn from them every day.
“Being on stage with Cleavant as he sings ‘Wonderful’ is like watching a master at work. And Clifton, I’ve never heard dialogue read so well. He treats Dr. Dillamond like a Shakespearean character, and every word is so clear, and it’s a masterclass. It is a complete honor to see these men at work.
Suskauer has been with the show since September 2019 and was happy to get back on the road once performances resume following the COVID-19 hiatus.
“It was amazing. There was a time when we thought we couldn’t play anymore,” she said. “I feel very lucky to have been brought back to finish the job.”
While the cast and crew have been back to work since August, Suskauer said, “We always have people coming to every show, and this is their first show in two years. We have a very important job to do, to bring theater to people across the country. »