DIVA TALK SPECIAL: The Yellow Brick Road Not Taken
By Andrew Gans
Wicked fans flocked to the Gershwin Theatre Oct. 27 for The Yellow Brick Road Not Taken, a concert celebrating the fifth anniversary of the hit Broadway musical penned by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman.
Buck Henry, the film actor who was last on Broadway in the 2002 revival of Morning's at Seven, opened the evening with a few introductory remarks. Henry jokingly explained his tenuous connection to the musical: As a boy, his mother claimed that his dog Angus had played Toto in "The Wizard of Oz."
"It was one of her many lies," Henry deadpanned.
The actor-writer also explained that Wicked producer David Stone had been influenced by Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" and decided that each production of Wicked would help raise funds for a different eco-friendly organization. Wicked's Broadway company had previously donated to the New York Restoration Project, and the proceeds from the Yellow Brick Road Not Taken would also benefit that organization founded by Bette Midler.
Henry then revealed that the evening, which boasted a mix of current and former Wicked stars as well as many not associated with the musical, would feature an early draft of Wicked's first act. In a note in the show's program librettist Holzman wrote, "[Looking through old scripts] was kind of like friends looking their high school yearbook. Only instead of, 'Can you believe we used to wear our hair that way on purpose?!' it was, 'Can you believe we thought the scarecrow should give a press conference?!' or, 'Can you believe we thought she became Governor in Act One?' Looking through those pages, we smiled nostalgically at how innocent and foolish we were, to think that Avaric was a necessary part of the story, or that the father had to die onstage. But what you don't know when you're writing is — everything. That's why you have to write it — to find out what happens."
It was quite interesting to see how much had changed from the 16 scenes presented to the final version of the show that is now a hit around the country and the world. In fact, during the curtain call, composer Schwartz said the evening was a great testament to the adage that "musicals are not so much written as rewritten."
Yellow Brick Road featured two sets of Glindas and Elphabas. Jennifer Laura Thompson and Stephanie J. Block played those roles for the first eight scenes, while Kate Reinders and Shoshana Bean were, respectively, the curly-locked Glinda and the green-skinned Elphaba for the next eight. Daniel Reichard and Matthew Settle also shared the role of Fiyero with "Ugly Betty" star Mark Indelicato as Boq, "View" co-host Joy Behar as Madame Morrible, Hairspray's George Wendt as the Wizard, Timothy Britten Parker as Dr. Dillamond and Michelle Federer in the role she created, Nessarose.
There were several times throughout the evening that the actors poked fun at the script. During the opening number, Jennifer Laura Thompson's Glinda asked, "Is it true? Is this the way the show really started?" And, following a confusing scene where Elphaba is able to light a crystal and witness a conversation between Boq, Fiyero and Glinda, Joy Behar said, "I don't follow," and Shoshana Bean countered, "I know. That's why this scene was cut." In order to speed up the proceedings, at one point Kate Reinders said, "Well, this part never really changed," and then simply sang the final line of "I'm Not That Girl."
Just a few of the many changes on Wicked's way to Broadway: Elphaba's first song — eventually replaced by "The Wizard and I" — was originally titled "Making Good"; "Bad Situation," a duet between Glinda and Elphaba, was replaced by "What Is This Feeling?"; and an odd song entitled "Easy as Winkie Wine" was scrapped altogether. In fact, it seems several references to Winkie Wine were deleted: At one point in the script Fiyero says, "I told Galinda I had urgent Winkie business." Also removed: "Emerald City Stomp," a chorus number prior to Elphaba's entrance in the witch hat; and "Step By Step," a solo for Nessarose after her father presents her with the ruby red slippers.
Some of the evening's highlights: Stephanie J. Block was in terrific voice, belting out a thrilling "Making Good" and sending the audience into spontaneous applause during her portion of "Defying Gravity." Mario Cantone drew laugh after laugh for his manic rendition of "Popular," and the "Defying Gravity" finale led by pop singer Ashanti and featuring dueling Elphabas and Glindas (Block, Bean, Thompson and Reinders) was thrilling. There were also a few welcome political barbs added for the occasion: Both "I hate that goat because he reminds me of John McCain" and Joy Behar's reference to a "hockey mom" also drew applause.
One left the theatre wishing to return to see the final version of Wicked; in fact, all of the changes that have been made since this draft were not only "for good" but "for the better."
The complete program for The Yellow Brick Road Not Taken, which was directed by Matt Lenz and featured a small band conducted by musical director Ben Cohn, follows:
Scene 1: The Emerald City
Scene 2: A Train Station in Munchkinland
Scene 3: A Parlor at Shiz University
Scene 4: Elphaba and Galinda's Dormitory Room
Scene 5: Biology Lecture Hall
Scene 6: The Sorcery Seminar
Scene 7: The Annual Festivities Frolick
"We Deserve Each Other"
Scene 8: Elphaba and Galinda's Dorm Room
Scene 9: The Biology Lecture Hall
Scene 10: Train Station
Scene 11: Dr. Dillamond's Laboratory
Scene 12: Munchkinland, The Governor's Private Quarters
Scene 13: A Funeral Procession
Scene 14: The Emerald City
Scene 15: Inside the Wizard's Palace
"The Chance to Fly"
Scene 16: The Attic at the Top of the Wizard's Palace
Based on Gregory Maguire's novel, which turned every Oz myth inside out, Wicked explores the early life of the witches of Oz: Glinda and Elphaba. The two main characters meet at Shiz, a school where both hope to take up sorcery. Glinda is madly popular and Elphaba is, well, green. By a misunderstanding, they wind up roommates and, after an initial period of mutual loathing, begin to learn something about each other. Their life paths continue to intersect through a shared love, entry into the Emerald City and interaction with the Wizard himself. Eventually, their choices and convictions take them on widely different paths.
For more information visit www.wickedthemusical.com.
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