DIVA TALK: The Elphabas of Wicked; Looking Back at a Decade of Interviews

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25 Oct 2013

Idina Menzel
Idina Menzel
Photo by Joan Marcus

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

On Oct. 30 a rare phenomenon in the history of Broadway will occur at the Gershwin Theatre: The international hit musical Wicked, which powerfully and emotionally delves into the back story of the witches of Oz, will celebrate its 10th anniversary on The Great White Way. Featuring a Tony-nominated score by Stephen Schwartz and a Tony-nominated book by Winnie Holzman, Wicked has been enchanting sold-out crowds for a decade, thanks to an excitingly tuneful score and a touching story that centers on the friendship between two not-so-wicked witches: the green-skinned Elphaba and the ever-"Popular" Glinda. Those roles, created to dazzling effect by Tony winners Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, are two of the meatiest currently available to young musical theatre actresses. The role of Elphaba is, perhaps, the most vocally challenging part for a belter since Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Evita came along in the late 70s. Since its debut in 2003, numerous actresses have had the chance to shine as the misunderstood Elphaba, who gets to belt out Schwartz's "The Wizard and I" and "Defying Gravity," and I've had the pleasure of chatting with many of these multi-talented, big-voiced gals. Excerpts from this decade of interviews with past Elphabas follow; that role, it should be noted, is currently being played by the gifted star of Dogfight and the recent revival of Godspell, Lindsay Mendez.

Click through to read excerpts from chats with the role's originator, Menzel, as well as subsequent Elphabas Eden Espinosa, Julia Murney, Stephanie J. Block, Nicole Parker, Shoshana Bean, Mandy Gonzalez and Willemijn Verkaik; interviews date from December 2003 to April 2013.

Idina Menzel, interview from December 2003

About the experience of playing San Francisco prior to bringing Wicked to Broadway:
Menzel: It was incredible and very important. I think that if you're doing a new musical, you want to have the opportunity to experiment and try things without the whole city of critics looking over your shoulder. And, the writers had that freedom to play, and they did. We tried different things, and we moved the order of scenes, and [they] wrote new lines and tried different costumes. It's a very important part of the process for a new musical.

About working with director Joe Mantello:
Menzel: I really owe it all to him. He challenged me to be better and really helped me discover who this woman was. When they are writing a new piece, they're not sure where they're coming from sometimes. The climate of who she is changes depending on a scene that's in or not, so you're constantly going, "Okay, wait. Now, I'm actually funny sometimes!" He just helped me figure out every moment and be specific and helped me bring out the essence of who she is.

Her favorite moment in the show:
Menzel: I have several favorite moments; it depends on the day. I love singing the duet with Kristin [Chenoweth] at the end because I'm always in awe of how different our voices are, and yet, when we sing together in unison, how wonderfully they blend. That's an important statement for the characters and the people that we are in real life as well. I love singing the duet with Norbert [Leo Butz] because I get to be the ingenue. All the other roles I've had, I'm always the slutty supporting character [laughs], and now I get to sing the pretty love song, so I love doing that. I love flying and singing "Defying Gravity," which is my most favorite song in the show.

The message of Wicked:
Menzel There are a lot of messages. The two main ones — the story of the friendship of these two women and how they, through striving for truth in themselves, they really give a wonderful gift to each other and change each other forever. I think that that's important. I think that the idea that when someone's different from us, we tend to be threatened by them, and that we have to strive to look deeper than the surface. I think that's the other most important message.

To read the full interview, click here.


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