Last night, I saw “Wicked” for the 20th time. (Sidebar: I’m really not insane — well, maybe just in this area. I don’t know why I’ve seen it so many times, other than it’s a very special show. I’m kind of embarrassed by this one obsession, actually, so hey, let’s blog about it where I can tell the whole world what a nutbar I am!)
But if we want to get technical, it was only the 19th time I’ve seen it in English — I also saw it while vacationing in Germany. And it’s only the 18th time for this particular production. The first time I saw it was when the national tour came to town in 2005.
To further complicate the counting, No. 20 (or 18, or 19) was my third time seeing Eden Espinosa as Elphaba, but the second time in the current run (she was my first Elphaba, back in 2005).
I’m just blown away by what a powerhouse performer Eden is, both vocally and in her acting. She’s a force that commands the stage. And last night, she also displayed what a pro she is, as the show had a couple of glitches.
First, her body mike was a little finicky. During the train station scene when Fiyero (the wonderful Nicolas Dromard) says that he “thinks about that day a lot,” Elphaba replies, “So do I.” Only this time, her body mike blipped a little and it was almost a whisper. Glinda (Kendra Kassebaum) has the next line (“Me, too!”) but she must not have heard Eden because there was a pause and then Eden repeated the line louder, prompting Kendra to respond quickly and slightly flustered (which works for the character in that scene, amusingly enough).
Much more noticeable was a mike failure at the beginning of “As Long as You’re Mine.” Eden’s body mike was completely out for half of her first verse, and those of us in the front row appreciated being close enough to still hear her until it popped back to life.
What’s odd is that according to what I learned at “Behind the Emerald Curtain” (entertaingly hosted by Nicolas and fellow cast member Jonathan Ritter), Elphaba wears two body mikes, one in her hair and one kind of behind her ear (there’s also one in her witch’s hat, but she doesn’t wear the hat during “As Long As You’re Mine”). So for some reason, neither mike was working.
Interesting (to me) is I don’t think Nicolas’ mike was picking up Eden at all, which means the sound board op must keep his turned down until it’s his turn to sing. I know back when I worked in theater (where we would often have to swap body mikes between cast members during the show since we didn’t have enough for everybody to even have one), we’d use that trick when one crapped out — crank up the mike of the other person in the scene and hope they’d have the sense to lean into it. Or perhaps these are such sophisticated mikes that they don’t pick up much beyond the person who’s wearing them.
Sitting in the front row also allowed me to see a nifty bit of sleight-of-hand performed by Eden at the top of “No Good Deed.” Elphaba and a podium containing the Grimorie (her spell book) rise from under the stage at the front edge, where she sings the first part of the song. When she first emerged, I noticed she tucked something black into the folds of her dress between her knees; at first I thought it was her witch’s hat, but she doesn’t have the hat in that scene, and I didn’t think she’d mistakenly bring it with her.
After the first part of the song, Elphaba slams the Grimorie shut and steps away from the podium, which sinks with the book back under the stage. Right before she stepped away, Eden grabbed the black whatever from between her knees and quickly stuffed it into the book as she slammed the cover shut, and it sunk back into the stage. I was still curious what it was, since I knew it wasn’t big enough to be her hat, which also is too rigid to have been stuffed into the book.
Late in the song, Elphaba steps upstage to perform the end of the song in an eerie light shining up in her face, with a fan blowing that allows her to wave her “wings” around (her dress has a sort of cape, where she grabs the ends and holds them out kind of like billowing wings). But this time, there was no cape. Aha! Mystery solved — apparently her cape became detached and she hid it first between her knees and later in the book. Smooth.
Post-show, I stopped by the stage door (the “Wicked” cast is unbelievably friendly and welcoming), and when Eden came out, I asked her about the cape adventure. She told me that her dresser accidentally stepped on the cape as Eden ran away, and one of the wings ripped off. She realized she didn’t want to perform the song with only one wing, so as she was being elevated, she frantically detached the other wing herself, tucked it away and then had the presence of mind to put it in the book so it would be out of her way. Quick thinking!
It’s really a stark contrast to one of the shows I stage-managed, an original play whose title totally escapes me now (that’s how much I’ve blocked out the experience). The lead actor, who proudly proclaimed that he’d been in the movie “Blackboard Jungle” as one of the students, notified the director one afternoon that he was hoarse and feared he wouldn’t be able to perform that night.
We had him arrive at the theater early and ran through a scene to assess his voice, determining that he easily could perform as long as he didn’t overproject (which he seemed to be doing to compensate for the slight degradation of his voice). We insisted that the miking and acoustics of the very small theater would allow the audience to hear him if he simply spoke normally.
Of course, being hardheaded and slightly dim, the first thing he did that night was start overprojecting, his voice breaking from time to time, but still not unacceptable.
Except in his mind. In the middle of a scene, he stopped, stepped to the front of the stage, announced to the audience that he would be unable to continue and walked off, leading his co-lead standing there stunned. I scrambled down from the booth and went to the front of house to announce we would locate the house manager and begin issuing refunds, but the audience wasn’t sure this wasn’t some bizarre part of the show. It was one of the worst nights of my theatrical career and could be partially responsible for me deciding I wasn’t going to be able to continue down that road. Imagine if his costume had been ripped by a dresser …
Anyway, back to “Wicked”: During the curtain call, when Kendra and Eden got a well-deserved standing ovation (which they ALWAYS get, at least when I’m there), after the cast saluted the orchestra — different conductor than usual, by the way — and they were waving to the audience, Nicolas spotted me in the first row, and god bless him, he winked at me and acknowledged that he recognized me, for which I am, again, slightly embarrassed. The folks sitting next to me were suitably impressed, though 😉
After the curtain call, Nicolas announced to the audience that this was a Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS benefit night, where the cast collects donations at the door and they have autographed schwag available in the lobby. I think this is the third time I’ve been to a BCEFA night — the first, oddly enough, was the first time I ever saw the show, back in 2005, and I bought a cast-signed poster that I now have framed in my house, next to my 1990 women’s Final Four poster signed by the championship Stanford team and an autographed Joe Thornton montage (I am a strange, strange girl). By the way, I realized recently that one of the signatures on the “Wicked” poster belongs to Adam Lambert — neat!
I had already decided that if the opportunity arose before the end of the run, I would get autographed photos of Nicolas and Eden, since I already have autographed photos of Kendra and the sublime Teal Wicks (previous Elphaba). Elphaba’s father sold me the photos (heh) — a really nice one of Eden near the end of “Defying Gravity” with the inscription “DEFY GRAVITY” on it and one of Nicolas in his Captain of the Guard uniform.
Although I had just dropped 50 bucks on photos, a slight surge of euphoria (possibly enhanced by pretty significant sleep deprivation of the previous two nights) caused me to drop a 20 into the donation bucket held by Boq (the adorable Etai BenShlomo), which got me a very nice thanks from Etai. Hey, I’m easy.
I hadn’t planned to visit the stage door, but I thought I’d at least thank Nicolas for recognizing me. He was beating a hasty exit, however, already starting to bike away (with helmet — safety first!). I called out my thanks to him, he reciprocated and then pedaled off quickly. Most of the cast dispersed rapidly, which is understandable on Friday nights when they have a quick turnaround for a two-show Saturday.
Jody Gelb, who plays Madame Morrible and is a total sweetheart, came out and recognized me from a previous stage-door encounter (seriously, this is embarrassing). She’s on Twitter, which I just recently started doing, and we had exchanged tweets earlier in the day, but since she had no way of knowing who I was, I made the connection for her and she seemed appreciative.
Speaking of Twitter, one of the other stage-door hangers-on was a girl I met a couple of performances ago, one of the semi-regulars named Emily. I think she’s up to around 15 times seeing the show, and she was very proud that this was her one-year anniversary of first seeing it. She’d won the “Wicked” lottery ($25 orchestra seats on the extreme sides) and I noticed that Nicolas had tweeted in the middle of the show that he had spotted her in the audience. I showed her the tweet and she was so thrillified (that’s “Wicked” speak) — it seemed to just make her night.
While waiting at the stage door, I realized that the small group standing next to me included cast member Felicia Ricci, who writes the most AMAZING blog about her experiences as a new cast member. She’s going to be the new Elphaba standby starting at the end of the month. (Both Glinda and Elphaba have a backup whose job is literally to hang out backstage in case the lead gets sick or hurt and they have to jump into action; it’s different from an understudy in that a US is also in the show, usually as part of the ensemble.)
I’d introduced myself to Felicia before (again, not a crazy stalker or groupie — she asked her blog fans to introduce ourselves to her), and when we caught sight of each other, amazingly, she remembered me, stopping her conversation to chat with me briefly. I found out when she’ll definitely be performing as Elphaba (I am SO there to see that) and we discussed the body mike and cape adventures. I also asked her about one of her ensemble hats that I dubbed the “Saturn on Crack” hat, which has a piece that hangs in front of her face; she was a hoot describing how sometimes it bops her in the face, depending on where the wig people position it.
She happened to mention that the people with her were her family, and I felt like a doofus for having interrupted her family time so much. But she was a doll about it. I know she’ll be a fantastic Elphaba.
Eden eventually came out and we had the conversation about the cape antics. I left the theater much later than I intended (knowing I was severely sleep-deprived and needed to be at the zoo at the ass-crack of dawn, I should have gone straight home and to bed), but it was well worth it. I just wonder how much of a loon I seem like for having this obsession.
I mean, it’s not like I’m easily star-struck. I’m never going to be able to claim to be something or someone’s “biggest fan” (SHN contest aside) because I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve THAT much. As noted, I was a professional stage manager, so I’ve worked closely with extraordinarily talented people (and was admired for my talents as a stage manager). And I’ve worked for Major League Baseball for the past 12 years, interacting with and interviewing professional athletes and sporting legends, from Barry Bonds to Willie Mays.
So I feel a little conflicted about my relationship with “Wicked.” On the one hand, it brings me great joy, and getting to chat with the cast allows me to get a bit closer to the show. On the other hand, I want to be respectful that these people don’t know anything about me and I’m just another in the gang of obsessives they see regularly at the stage door (and in the front row, heh). I exchange tweets with some of them, but every time, I hesitate before I click send, fearing that I’m being an obnoxious fan.
One of the things I miss most about stage managing is getting to be around people who have a passion for theater, who want to TALK about characters and stagecraft and the art of drama. I got to discuss motivations for Madame Morrible with Jody, and it was one of the most energizing conversations I’ve had in ages.
I only hope that these fine artists know my admiration for them is based in a deep appreciation for their incredible talent in bringing this marvelous show to life. I can only dream that someday I might return to that world as not just an admirer but as a collaborator.
Going to the theater always involves a bit of an emotional struggle for me. But because of SHN, I simply can’t help going, with the pain outweighed by the joy of seeing the fantastic shows they offer.
An explanation: When I was a freshman in college, I discovered my passion — theater — by both working on shows and discovering SHN’s offerings. I first became enraptured by Lily Tomlin’s “Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe,” which I would eventually see multiple times, and the show’s poster still hangs on my wall. Throughout college, as I eventually earned a degree in drama, I managed to see a number of still-memorable SHN shows, including “Cats,” “Les Miserables,” “The King and I” (with Rudolf Nureyev!), “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway” and others.
After graduating, I became a professional stage manager. But two years, four shows and a total of less than $5,000 earned later (and being the last cut for a stage management internship at ACT), I was forced to give up what I desperately longed to do. I turned to my other degree (journalism), and my attendance at shows dropped off markedly. It was simply too painful to go, for the most part, knowing that I belonged on the other side of the proscenium.
And yet, I still found myself going to the occasional show — always to SHN shows. I couldn’t pass up seeing some of the productions I had always loved and longed to see, like “Phantom of the Opera” and “The Lion King,” or shows that simply intrigued me too much to skip, including “Contact” and “City of Angels.” The waves of regret would subside once the lights dimmed and the performance began.
With “Wicked” in 2005, I discovered a show that would slowly bring me back to being an eager theatergoer — tonight I will see the current production for the 18th time. But it’s not just “Wicked” I adore, it’s SHN and the quality that organization represents.
Many years ago, I saw a community theater production of “South Pacific” and HATED the show. I deemed it an outdated, cornball cheesefest (or whatever county-fair-food metaphor suits your fancy) that only appealed to audiences Of A Certain Age. When I saw SHN’s last season included the Lincoln Center production, I had zero interest in seeing it, but glowing reviews intrigued me and I decided to put my faith in an SHN offering and go. However, the only day free on my schedule was the same day I already had tickets for “Rent.” I noted that it was a Wednesday, though, and — you guessed it — I opted for a doubleheader: matinee of “South Pacific” and evening performance of “Rent.” I was well-rewarded; “South Pacific” was magnificently sublime. It’s amazing what top-quality performers and productions can deliver. My day of gorging on theater was so special, I didn’t even mind that much to discover my car was locked in a closed parking lot and I’d have to go back the next morning to fetch it (and pay the overnight fees).
Don’t get me wrong — I still have enormous pangs of regret whenever I go to a show. I’ve begun to consider the possibility of chucking my successful current career and trying to start over as a stage manager. I even momentarily considered quitting my job and getting a front-of-house position with “Peter Pan,” just on the chance it might get a toe on the path back to what I was truly meant to do.
But as I said, the heartache is not enough to keep me away from the wonderful productions SHN brings to San Francisco. I will be there for “In the Heights” and “Young Frankenstein.” I won’t miss “West Side Story” or “Dreamgirls.” And I plan to take my 6-year-old niece to see “Peter Pan” as her first live theater show.
I also intend to visit New York in the near future to see some shows, but I know I won’t be seeing any shows I’ve already had the pleasure of seeing thanks to SHN. If I’ve seen them here, I’ve already truly seen the Best of Broadway.