PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Gregory Maguire

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Gregory Maguire Wicked is arguably the defining Broadway hit of the first decade of the 21st century. It started with Gregory Maguire.
Gregory Maguire
Gregory Maguire Photo by Aubrey Reuben

While the musical retelling of the Oz story didn't win the Tony Award for Best Musical, it won a passionately devoted following unmatched by any other show on Broadway. And few others can accurately call themselves a cultural phenomenon, inspiring and informing the lives of the people who see the production. Need we mention its lucrative merchandise empire and a popular backstage tour that is a show unto itself? The wellspring of all this commerce and devotion is Maguire, who penned "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West," the 1995 novel that inspired the show. Maguire's life was changed by the show, which transformed him into a successful (and rich) adult novelist. (He had already been a successful writer of children's books.) Maguire recently published his latest work, "A Lion Among Men," another retelling of the Oz story (this time the tale of the Cowardly Lion), but "Wicked" continues to loom large in his life, particularly now that the Broadway production has reached (on Oct. 30) its fifth anniversary on Broadway. Maguire talked to Playbill.com about how it feels to have the Empire State Building lit green in honor of his story.

Playbill.com: Does it seem like five years since the show opened?
Gregory Maguire: No. And it would probably seem like 25 years if I actually lived in New York. Because whenever I come here and see the billboards and the buses and walk over by the Gershwin Theatre, it's a kind of vortex that sucks me in. But since I live in Massachusetts in the suburbs, and I have small kids who are more interested in their soccer schedule and their little betrayals and crushes, I kind of forget about it from time to time. In fact, I forget about it quite a lot, except when I go into a book store or open the mail.

Playbill.com: …and get a royalty check.
GM: I certainly get royalty checks on my book. I'm not hurting, I must say. And various friends of mine who are novelists kind of look and say, "Gee, you're a nice guy, but did you really deserve this much luck?"

Playbill.com: They'd like to have their book turned into not just a musical, but a musical that is a cultural phenomenon.
GM: The show is an enterprise, it is a nation, it is an alternative reality, it is a delusion and a snare and it is a work of popular imagination, that, in the tweaking of its terms, borders on a kind of genius.

Playbill.com: And, to borrow from the politicians, it's a job-creator. You're in the business of job creation.
GM: (Laughs) Who knew? When people tell me that every night just before the orchestra strikes up, there are 125 people backstage or onstage making it happen, that is hugely daunting. Because even though I don't know them personally, I think, "Oh, if ticket sales start to suffer, just think of all those people I'll have to bake lasagnas for and mail them in freezer packs."


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Playbill.com: All you would have to do in that case is get someone to musicalize the "Wicked" sequel, "Son of a Witch."
GM: Yeah. Whenever I see Stephen Schwartz, I stand behind him and sing [to the opening notes of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5] "Son of a Witch!" But he never takes the bait. Playbill.com: Has anyone else shown interest?
GM: No. Several times in a row, there was some interest in my book "Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister," which was the story of Cinderella set in Holland in 1628. Also, there seemed to have been a flurry of interest into making it into an opera, which I would have loved. I would have been willing to try to do the libretto for either one. When I was a kid, I would organize my six siblings into Sunday musicales we'd put on for our family, because there were seven of us and we were Catholic and it was like the von Trapps. I once put on a show called Hello, Molly! about a flapper. We had the Hello, Dolly! original cast recording, so I wrote original lyrics for the entire production.

Playbill.com: So, I take it, you like the theatre world.
GM: Yes. When I was a kid, it was one of my ambitions to be in it. And I knew I was never going to be tall enough to be on the stage as anything other than a munchkin. But I though I might write lyrics or music.

Playbill.com: How many times have you seen the show so far?
GM: 35 and a half.

Playbill.com: What? You walked out in the middle of your own show?
GM: I was with Rosie O'Donnell. She was mobbed when we walked in. And she sat very agreeably, singing along with the score and conducting the orchestra from Row H. But when the intermission came, I thought, "She's going to be mobbed." So I grabbed her hand and we ran so fast up the aisle and out into the lobby that we kind of tumbled down the escalator and ended up in a bar across the street. We nursed our wounds and had a couple glasses of wine.

Playbill.com: To you, what is the funniest bit of Wicked merchandise?
GM: I love the Wicked cookies. I suppose the Wicked golf balls are funniest. To be able to walk up to someone and say, "Hey, I've got green balls," I mean, it paints you as a munchkin of a different color.

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