DIVA TALK: Chatting with Wicked's Ashford, Bean, Espinosa, Murney and Thompson

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24 Oct 2008

Original <I>Wicked</I> stars Idina Menzel (green) and Kristin Chenoweth (blonde)
Original Wicked stars Idina Menzel (green) and Kristin Chenoweth (blonde)
Photo by Joan Marcus

News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

THE GALS OF WICKED
There can be little argument that the biggest theatrical phenomenon of the past five years has been the Stephen Schwartz-Winnie Holzman musical Wicked, which is based on Gregory Maguire's novel of the same name. The production, which celebrates its fifth anniversary at Broadway's Gershwin Theatre Oct. 30, has been a massive hit wherever it has played, including sit-down productions in Chicago and Los Angeles, a national touring company, and international stagings in London, Tokyo, Stuttgart and Melbourne (there will soon be a second U.S. national touring company, and the Los Angeles production will transfer to San Francisco in January 2009). Much of the show's success can be credited to the exciting score (years ago, Schwartz gave belting fans "Meadowlark," and his work for Wicked includes the vocally soaring "Defying Gravity," "The Wizard and I" and "No Good Deed" as well as the comic and catchy "Popular" and the touching ballad "I'm Not That Girl") and its big heart (Holzman's adaptation of Maguire's clever novel offers several touching moments and keeps the audience rooting for its green-skinned heroine). The musical also provides two of the greatest roles for women in recent musical theatre history, and the work of original co-stars Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel as well as future Glindas and Elphabas — including Annaleigh Ashford, Shoshana Bean, Stephanie J. Block, Kerry Ellis, Eden Espinosa, Megan Hilty, Kendra Kassebaum, Julia Murney, Jennifer Laura Thompson, among others — cannot be discounted. Recently "Diva Talk" posed the same four questions to several of the actresses who have brought Elphaba or Glinda to full life; their answers follow.

Annaleigh Ashford
ANNALEIGH ASHFORD
(Glinda on Broadway and in Chicago)

Question: What is the most memorable stage door moment/fan comment that you experienced during your run in Wicked?
Annaleigh Ashford: Just recently we had two fans who were dressed as Act 2 Glinda and Elphaba. Their brother had built exact replicas of Susan Hilferty's magical designs, and the little Elphaba even had a green little face. We walked out and did a double-take. They looked fabulous, and that certainly was the first time I saw a fully decked-out Glinda and Elphaba at the stage door.

Question: What is the funniest stage mishap that stands out in your mind from your Wicked run?
Ashford: One night during "Loathing," at the very top of the song when I have to jump up on the stage, I fell on my back. My feet flew over my head. And, my skirt followed! Thank God we wear spankys or I would have given a not-so-family friendly show that evening. Just kidding! It was hilarious. Any time somebody falls completely on their face, and they're ok, it's a big 'ol laugh to be had by the audience and everyone on stage. Falls are funny...if your ankles are ok.



Annaleigh Ashford in Wicked
photo by Joan Marcus
Question: Would you say you're more Elphaba or more Glinda in real life?
Ashford: We all have a little of both in us, I hope. But I would have to say my spirit is a little bit more like Glinda's. I tend to be more silly, and I am terrible at flying on brooms.

Question: Why do you think Wicked has become such a hit all around the world?
Ashford: Regardless of its connection to "The Wizard of Oz" and its truly flawless production quality, Wicked is, at its core, a story of two friends and the sacrifices they both make to change the world and to change each other. That is the theme and the heart that remains universal. I believe that is why this show had been such a success in so many languages all around the world.

(A graduate of Marymount Manhattan College, Ashford also created the role of Margot in Legally Blonde—The Musical.)

* * * *

Shoshana Bean
photo by Tye Jakobs
SHOSHANA BEAN
(Elphaba on Broadway and in the 1st National Tour)

Question: What is the most memorable stage door moment/fan comment that you experienced during your run in Wicked?
Shoshana Bean: There was a little girl in Toronto who was trying her best to communicate to me what seeing the show meant to her, but she was unable to. All she could do was cry. So, of course, I started crying, too, and we just cried and hugged. I remember being so grateful in that moment that I was a part of something so powerful.

Question: What is the funniest stage mishap that stands out in your mind from your Wicked run?
Bean: I guess when I ran out onstage for my first entrance into Shiz and ran straight into the pit! [I was] caught by the net, of course, and no one was injured. . . but hilarious and humiliating nonetheless! Many others come to mind, but nothing can top that!

Shoshana Bean in Wicked
photo by Joan Marcus
Question: Would you say you're more Elphaba or more Glinda in real life?
Bean: I definitely think I'm a combo of both. I loooove pink and girlie things and coordinating outfits and performing make-overs and being the social event planner like Galinda. . .but nothing pains me more than seeing injustice or another living being suffering. I speak my mind even though it may not be the popular opinion, and I have been known to put up a hard protective front or two. . . .much like our green girl.

Question: Why do you think Wicked has become such a hit all around the world?
Bean: I think it's initially appealing because it gives the audience an incredibly imaginative extension on one of the greatest stories of all times. Beyond that the music is ridiculously amazing. It is visually stunning, and there is smart commentary on social and political themes. Above all, there is this amazing friendship between two iconic characters who represent the best and worst in all of us. In one way or another, there is something in the show that appeals to everyone.

(Bean also originated the role of Shelley in Broadway's Hairspray, toured in Leader of the Pack and was seen in the Off-Broadway revival of Godspell.)

* * * *

Eden Espinosa
EDEN ESPINOSA
(Elphaba on Broadway and in Los Angeles)

Question: What is the most memorable stage door moment/fan comment that you experienced during your run in Wicked?
Eden Espinosa: I really don't have one favorite stage-door moment. It's always amazing to meet people after the show who appreciate your work and are so in love with the show. I love it when you see fans that come to the show as Elphaba with the make up and the costume!

Question: What is the funniest stage mishap that stands out in your mind from your Wicked run?
Espinosa: Oh, there are sooo many mishaps that have happened. In the original cast when I was on for Idina [Menzel], Norbert [Leo Butz] swung in on the rope and kneeled with his gun as Fiyero, and he didn't get up right away. Kristin's (Chenoweth) back was to him, so she couldn't see what was happening. I thought he hurt his knee or something, but he had split his pants from the front to the back, and he didn't want to get up and show his stuff! We all started cracking up, and the audience caught on. It stopped the show and was an amazing moment.

Eden Espinosa in Wicked
photo by Joan Marcus
Question: Would you say you're more Elphaba or more Glinda in real life?
Espinosa: I think I'm more of an Elphaba in real life. I'm a little shy when I first meet someone, but when it comes to something that I'm passionate about and believe in, then I have no problem speaking my mind and standing up for what I believe in.

Question: Why do you think Wicked has become such a hit all around the world?
Espinosa: Wicked has been an amazing chapter in my life, and I feel so blessed to have been a part of this show and this family. I think people have responded so well to this show because everyone can relate to something in it. . . . It's about misconceptions, friendships, politics, love....so many different layers. I give that credit to Winnie and Stephen and the heart they gave the show. It's the humanity that you find even in Oz.

(Espinosa also starred in the title role of Brooklyn the Musical, played Maureen in the final cast of Broadway's Rent and headed the cast of the Reprise mounting of Flora, the Red Menance.)

* * * *

Julia Murney
JULIA MURNEY
(Elphaba on Broadway and in the 1st National Tour)

Question: What is the most memorable stage door moment/fan comment that you experienced during your run in Wicked?
Julia Murney: I found myself consistently amazed at the numbers and passion of people at the stage door, both on tour (props to the sea of people every night in Atlanta) and on Broadway, and I am hard pressed to pick just one memory...One that comes to mind is the girl who showed up one night and said she was the "tattoo girl." She lifted her pant leg to show me a beautiful and rather large tattoo of a butterfly on her calf, with the words "defy gravity" on it — in my handwriting. She had asked for the writing while I was on tour, and I figured, well why not — practiced writing it about 500 times before sending it in, and now there it is permanently on her leg. Holy cow!

Question: What is the funniest stage mishap that stands out in your mind from your Wicked run?
Murney: A few times, Kendra (Kassebaum) tossed her wand off stage during "Popular," and it would bounce off the tower and back onto the stage — her improv around that killed me every time. There was the time the monkey forgot to bring me the note about Fiyero in the final scene, so he just looked at me and mumbled, "Figure it out." I also have to give shout outs to both the tour and Broadway casts for taking such incredibly good care of me on nights when things were not going well health wise for me. They are salt of the earth, every one of them.

Julia Murney in Wicked
photo by Joan Marcus
Question: Would you say you're more Elphaba or more Glinda in real life?
Murney: I'm an Elphie. Why is my own to know, but I'm definitely an Elphie.

Question: Why do you think Wicked has become such a hit all around the world?
Murney: I think it starts with the brilliance of Gregory Maguire's novel and then to Winnie and Stephen's adaptation. They happened to catch lightning in a bottle and wrote something that anyone who has ever felt like not enough can relate to. Even if you don't know the "Wizard of Oz," you can relate to the desire to belong, the dreams of overcoming adversity, the power of a true and good friendship. You also cannot discount flying monkeys and girls belting in the stratosphere.

(Murney will perform in concert Nov. 24 at 11:30 PM at Joe's Pub. She will be backed by musical director Chris Fenwick on piano, Damien Bassman on drums, Michael Aarons on guitar and Konrad Adderley on bass. Visit www.joespub.com for tickets.)

(Murney has also been seen on Broadway in Lennon and Off-Broadway in Saved, The Wild Party [Drama Desk nomination], The Vagina Monologues, Crimes of the Heart, A Class Act, Time and Again [Lucille Lortel nomination] and First Lady Suite. Her solo album is titled "I'm Not Waiting.")

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