Inside the Emerald City: Wicked's Elphaba
By Playbill Staff
Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman's international hit musical Wicked celebrates its 10th anniversary on Broadway Oct. 30 at the Gershwin Theatre. To mark the Broadway milestone, Playbill.com is looking back at the magical and mysterious characters who inhabit the untold tale of the witches of Oz.
Each week Playbill.com has highlighted a different leading character from the musical and a selection of the actors who have filled his or her shoes. (Read more about Wicked's 10th anniversary here.)
This week we look at Wicked's Elphaba.
Click through for a tour of Oz's Wicked inhabitants:
Idina Menzel earned a 2004 Best Actress Tony Award for originating the role of greenified witch Elphaba in the San Francisco and Broadway premieres of Wicked. In 2006, Menzel repeated her work in the original London cast of Wicked. Her stage appearances include Rent, Aida, The Wild Party and See What I Wanna See. She will return to Broadway this season in the new musical If/Then.
Menzel spoke with Playbill about her experience in Wicked and the message it offers audiences: "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." Read the full interview here.
Tony Award nominee Stephanie J. Block was part of the very first workshops and readings of Wicked in 2001. She also understudied the role during the pre-Broadway San Francisco try-out of the musical. Block would later launch the first national tour of Wicked in 2005 and perform the role on Broadway in 2007. She is a Tony nominee for The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Her numerous Broadway appearances include The Boy from Oz, The Pirate Queen, 9 to 5 and Anything Goes.
Block shared some Wicked memories with Playbill.com. "I remember the exact day Stephen Schwartz called me in February 2001 and said, 'I'm out in LA. I'm developing a new show and you were recommended. I'd love to meet with you tomorrow.' It happened that quick. I was in his apartment the next day working on what they were developing into what we didn't know would be the blockbuster Wicked. And from that moment on it kind of was in my blood. I love the piece, I loved the role of Elphie. Of course, then standing by for Idina and going on out of town in San Francisco was another one of those incredible moments because I'd done two years of workshops and readings, and to cross that finish line – I just was grateful and joyous."
Block also recalled the first time she went on as Elphaba: "It was a Sunday matinee in San Francisco. The curtain came down and they said, 'You're going on tonight.' So it was two hours of just figuring out the paint and the technical aspect, and I was just flung in. I'm telling you I can still taste it, and smell it, and feel the lights. It was one of those moments I'll never forget. And since then, I've been lucky enough to do a year on the road and nine months on Broadway. I was recently in London doing a solo show and the producers of Wicked called me and said, 'Both of our Elphies are ill, so if we had to would you be able to go on in a day or two?' So, I had my agent immediately send me the script and I was readying myself years later to go on for Elphie. It was interesting, because I went over it and I thought, 'I could do this tomorrow.' So she's still in my DNA."
Shoshana Bean succeeded Menzel in the Broadway company of Wicked in 2005. She continued with the role of Elphaba for a year on Broadway prior to joining the national tour of the musical in the fall of 2006. Bean made her Broadway debut in the 2002 musical Hairspray and appeared in the 2000 Off-Broadway revival of Godspell. She has also launched a solo pop career, which includes the albums "Superhero" and "O'Farrell Street."
Eden Espinosa made her Broadway debut as the original Broadway standby for Elphaba. She officially took over the role at the Gershwin Theatre in 2006. Espinosa was also seen as Elphaba in the 2007 Los Angeles company and national tours of Wicked. Espinosa has also appeared on Broadway in Rent and in the title role of the 2004 musical Brooklyn.
"Saturday Night Live" cast member Ana Gasteyer was the original Elphaba in the 2005 Chicago premiere of Wicked. She repeated her work in the Broadway company when she succeeded Eden Espinosa in 2006. She has also appeared on Broadway in The Rocky Horror Show, The Threepenny Opera and The Royal Family. Gasteyer also appears in the film musical "Reefer Madness."
Julia Murney took over as Elphana in the Broadway production of Wicked in 2007, following an earlier engagement on the national tour of the musical. Her stage appearances also include Lennon, Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party, A Class Act, Queen of the Mist, Closer Than Ever and Falling. She currently stars in the Off-Broadway premiere of the John Kander-Greg Pierce musical The Landing.
Kerry Ellis was the original London standby for Idina Menzel in the West End premiere of Wicked. She later assumed the role in the London run and, in 2008, repeated her work as Elphaba in the Broadway production of Wicked. She has appeared in the London productions of Les Misérables and We Will Rock You. She also co-starred with Menzel in the 2008 Royal Albert Hall concert staging of Chess.
Caissie Levy, who will star as Fantine in the 2014 Broadway return of Les Miserables, played Elphaba in the Los Angeles and Broadway companies of Wicked. She originated the role of Molly in the West End and Broadway productions of Ghost and also appeared in the Broadway productions of Hair and Hairspray.
With more than 1,200 performances under her hat, Dee Roscioli has performed the role of Elphaba more than any other actress, having starred in the Broadway, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and first national tour of Wicked.
Mandy Gonzalez appeared as Elphaba in the Broadway cast of Wicked from 2010-11. She made her 2003 Broadway debut in Aida and has also appeared in Dance of the Vampires, Lennon and as Nina in the Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights.
Willemijn Verkaik, the Dutch actress who has played the role of Elphaba in more than 1,000 perfromances in Holland, Germany and most recently Broadway, is set to join the London cast of Wicked in November. Verkaik made her debut as Elphaba in the German language production of Wicked in Nov. 2007 in Stuttgart and subsequently in Oberhausen. She reprised the role in the Dutch-language premiere production, opening at the AFAS Circustheater in Nov. 2011 and made her Broadway debut at the Gershwin Theatre in February 2012.
Teal Wicks has appeared in the Broadway, Los Angeles and San Francisco productions of Wicked. Wicks was last seen on Broadway as Emma Carew in the revival of Frank Wildhorn's Jekyll & Hyde. She appeared Off-Broadway in The Blue Flower and the Encores! production of Stairway to Paradise.
Lindsay Mendez, who made her Broadway debut in the 2007 revival of Grease, is Broadway's current Elphaba. She joined the cast in May 2012 along with her Dogfight co-star Derek Klena, who currently plays Fiyero. Mendez has also appeared in Everyday Rapture and the 2011 Broadway revival of Godspell.
Last summer Mendez spoke with Playbill.com about her experience in Wicked: "I saw [Wicked] when it first opened, and I thought it was awesome. I loved it. It's always been around, but it was never on my radar as a show that I could be in. And so, now doing it is like crazy and strange… And, I'm green all the time now! I really love playing this role. We're so lucky to get to [perform] such an epic journey every night. You don't always get that opportunity in a musical. A lot of times, you're playing something that happens over [the course of] a week. You're not getting to see people grow up and have these huge things happen to them [like in Wicked], and I think it's really special to get to dig that deep and go through [the journey] every night. And, to get to sing with a huge orchestra — one of the last huge orchestras on Broadway — and to be in a show that's this big and exciting, where an audience comes and is already excited to see it before it even starts… We have such an upper hand! They're already invested in the story before we even open our mouths because they know these characters, and that's really special and makes our jobs easier."
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