7 Wild Moments In Wicked’s Early History | Playbill

Special Features 7 Wild Moments In Wicked’s Early History

At 20 years old, Wicked may now be a Broadway stalwart. But the show had a very dramatic journey its first few years.

Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel in Wicked Joan Marcus

Wicked may be regarded as a Broadway staple today, but like any show, it had some surprising twists and turns in its journey to legendary status. 

In preparation for the musical's 20th anniversary on Broadway, which will include a special performance on October 30 plus other celebratory events, why not read up on these wild moments from the musicals first five years on the Broadway boards? From wedding bells to ambulance alarms, Wicked has survived its fair share of dramatic moments on and off stage. And through it all, the show and its players persevered, to become the cultural juggernaut we see today.

Take a walk down memory lane below. 

1. A Showmance That Led to a Marriage

Norbert Leo Butz and Michelle Federer

In the early days of Wicked, love was in the air at Shiz University. Though it was not between the characters audiences most suspected (we see you Gelphie fans!). Original Fiyero, Norbert Leo Butz, and original Nessarose, Michelle Federer, fell in love working on the original Broadway production, and were married in 2007. It turns out, Fiyero ends up with a Thropp sister after all!

Butz credits Fiyero's remarkably tight white "Dancing Through Life" pants as the magic ingredient in their romance, stating in an interview with Broadway.com that "I got me a wife out of those... I got Michelle Federer, who was checking out those white pants when I was ‘Dancing Through Life.’ Now she’s dancing through wife!”

2. Robert Morse Leaving the Show

Robert Morse

Wicked went through a series of shakeups between its San Francisco tryout and Broadway opening, including a handful of dramatic casting changes. Both Boq and Dr. Dillamond were recast in the shows journey to the East Coast (those characters were played out-of-town by Kirk McDonald and John Horton, respectively). But it was the recasting of The Wizard that proved to be the most dramatic. Originally played by How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying Tony winner Robert Morse, a statement was released to the public one month before Wicked began previews on Broadway.

As the statement explained, Morse was uncomfortable with being separated from his wife and two children during the New York rehearsals, causing him to voluntarily vacate his contract. Thankfully, Cabaret star Joel Grey was able to step into the shoes of the emerald emperor for Broadway, becoming immortalized on the show's cast recording during his limited run.

3. Kristin Chenoweth Performing While Injured

Kristin Chenoweth in Wicked Joan Marcus

One of the scariest moments in Wicked's history happened onstage during previews. During the show's out-of-town tryout in San Francisco, star Kristen Chenoweth sustained a serious neck injury. She herniated two disks in her neck after flipping her hair with too much vigor. 

This injury came back in full force during the show's Broadway previews, and Chenoweth ended up performing several shows in the early days of Wicked's run while wearing a bedazzled neck brace. The injury unfortunately proved to be recurring, and everything came to a head on a particularly painful day. 

On June 4, 2004, both of her understudies were indisposed. Melissa Bell Chait, the original Glinda cover, was unavailable as she herself was recovering from a minor stroke. Laura Bell Bundy, the other Glinda cover, was across the country in California. Chenoweth went on with the show, with the assistance of some significant pain medication, and pulled it off—minus a few lyric alterations in "No One Mourns The Wicked" and notably less hair tossing. Thank goodness such a perfect storm never happened again!

4. The Time the Awards Got Mixed Up

Joe Mantello

During its first year on Broadway, Wicked was quickly becoming a cultural juggernaut. But for director Joe Mantello, there were still a few bumps in the road after opening night. At the 49th annual Drama Desk Awards, he was nominated against himself: he had directing nominations for Wicked and for the starry Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim's Assassins.

When the envelope was opened, and Mantello was declared the winner, everything seemed normal: He walked to the podium, thanked the team that had made Assassins possible, and walked off with presenter Bebe Neuwirth with the top prize in hand. It only became clear the next day, long after his speech, that an error had been made.

While Neuwirth had read off the right name, an error had been made while putting together the envelopes: Mantello had actually won for his direction of Wicked, not Assassins

When he later received the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical (for Assassins), Mantello jokingly acknowledged the previous mixup, stating that "I want to start thanking people, so if there's been a mistake, NOW would be the time." He then opened the envelope himself to confirm that he had indeed won for Assassins.

5. The Broomstick Flight That Got Scrapped

Stephanie J. Block Joan Marcus

When Wicked went on the road for its first national tour, the production had a number of problems to solve: touring sets and blocking are often different from the original Broadway setup, due in part to the changing size and technical capabilities of different regional theatres. One of Wicked's trickiest problems to solve on tour was the issue of the trapdoors: Not every regional theatre had the ability to install person-sized trap doors for different entrances and exits, which meant Wicked's creative team had to come up with a new dramatic entrance for Elphaba at the top of "No Good Deed" (she usually rises from underneath the stage).

Their answer? Relying on the theatre's wire rig system to fly Elphaba in on her broom stick in a moment of true visual spectacle. Immediately before the Toronto premiere, The Emerald City tour was forced to postpone performances after the star, Stephanie J. Block, was injured. During rehearsals for the moment, the rig mechanism malfunctioned, leading to a major hip injury for Block. While the specifics of Block’s injury have never been made public, the resulting damage forced her to step away from the production for nearly three weeks. Kristy Cates was brought to Toronto to step in as Elphaba after producers postponed the show’s opening by a week, with Block eventually returning after recovering from her injury. A fly rig entrance was never again attempted.

Idina Menzel in Wicked Joan Marcus

6. Idina Menzel Falling Through a Trap Door (And Coming Back)

Idina Menzel's final weekend as Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway has become infamous.

In yet another trapdoor-related incident, the January 8 matinee was marked with disaster when an elevator beneath the trap door that usually met Menzel during the show's "melting sequence" began descending without her. This meant she free-fell into the hole. 

After her scream was heard, the show was stopped and the house curtain was immediately lowered as an announcement was made calling for a doctor in the house. A number of doctors were rushed backstage from the audience, and Menzel was rushed to the hospital. X-rays showed that the fall had cracked one of her lower ribs.

The matinee was finished by Menzel's understudy, Shoshana Bean, who also played what was to have been Menzel's final performance January 9. Menzel did make one last appearance on the Wicked stage. Donning a red track suit and a smile, Menzel came out to perform the final sequence in the show, shocking the assembled audience who had made their peace with missing her. The two-minutes-and-six-seconds standing ovation that followed her entrance brought Menzel, then-Glinda Jennifer Laura Thompson, and then-Fiyero Joey McIntyre (who was also playing his final performance January 9), to tears.

Once the audience had finally quieted enough for Menzel and McIntyre to get through their lines, Thompson couldn't resist the energy of the crowd, loudly declaring from her position in the bubble that "I LOVE IDINA MENZEL!" This set off another ovation. Decades later, in interviews, Menzel still cites January 9 as one of the most "incredibly beautiful and special" experiences of her life.

7. The Yellow Brick Road Not Taken

Jennifer Laura Thompson (center) among The Yellow Brick Road Not Taken cast. Photo by Samantha Souza

On October 27, 2008, Wicked fans flocked to the Gershwin Theatre for The Yellow Brick Road Not Taken, a concert celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Broadway production. Boasting a mix of then-current and former Wicked stars, as well as guest performers who were not associated with the musical, the concert presented an early draft of Wicked's first act. The 16 scenes featured a wide array of excised material, including entire songs and character arcs that had been cut during the development of the musical. 

Jennifer Laura Thompson and Stephanie J. Block played Glinda and Elphaba for the first eight scenes, while Kate Reinders and Shoshana Bean played the roles for the next eight (though Mario Cantone came in mid-show and made the crowd holler with his rendition of "Popular"). Daniel Reichard and Matthew Settle shared the role of Fiyero. Ugly Betty star Mark Indelicato played Boq, The View co-host Joy Behar played Madame Morrible, Hairspray's George Wendt played the Wizard, Timothy Britten Parker played Dr. Dillamond, and Michelle Federer played the role she created, Nessarose.

To learn more about the remarkable 5th anniversary concert, check out Andrew Gans' review here. Stay tuned to Playbill.com as we celebrate Wicked's landmark 20th anniversary this month, because Broadway and Wicked definitely deserve each other.  

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