GayCalgary® Magazine [copy]

A Wicked Return

Broadway smash remains popular

Theatre Preview by Jason Clevett (From GayCalgary® Magazine, July 2014, page 12)
Kara Lindsay and Laurel Harris
Kara Lindsay and Laurel Harris
Image by: Joan Marcus 2013
Kathy Fitzgerald
Kathy Fitzgerald
Image by: Joan Marcus 2013
Laurel Harris
Laurel Harris
Image by: Joan Marcus 2014

Since it hit Broadway in 2003 Wicked has captivated audiences in New York and around the world. So in demand is the show that just three years after playing to sold out audiences in Calgary and Edmonton in 2011, the witches return again for a summer engagement. Wicked runs in Edmonton until July 20th, then Calgary July 23rd to August 17th. The show is hosted by both city’s Jubilee Auditoriums.

Wicked takes a look at the life of Elphaba, better known in Oz as The Wicked Witch of the West. Best friends with Glinda, later known as ‘The Good Witch’, the show explores their youth and why one became ‘good’ and the other ‘wicked’.

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There are two productions touring currently, and the Munchkinland Tour is the one coming to Alberta. Featuring Laurel Harris as Elphaba and Kara Lindsay as Glinda, the experienced cast brings Wicked to life on stage. GayCalgary spoke with Matt Shingledecker, who played Fiyero in the production, while the show was in Vancouver. The tour has taken him to Memphis, Austin, San Antonia, Fresno, Boise, Spokane and Vancouver. With longer runs in markets than many shows that just play a week, it is a bonus to get to spend time in the cities, he said.

"That is one of the things I like about Vancouver; most of the stops were three weeks but I got five weeks in Vancouver to really settle in," he says. "I found a really nice apartment instead of having to live out of a hotel room. Toronto, being nine weeks, is very much a perk. That is one of the nice things about being part of such a popular show – to not have to travel every week. My previous show tour we would only do a week and you don’t really get a proper day off to see the city. So this is really nice."

Shingledecker brings a variety of past experiences on Broadway and on tour to the show. Playing characters like Georg in Spring Awakening and Roger in Rent demonstrates the diversity of his acting.

"I have been lucky to be with some really amazing shows. I haven’t had one that I wasn’t totally moved and awed over. Spring Awakening was my first big professional gig and it was right out of college. It was a weird experience being on Broadway for a few months then going on tour. I spent over two years with that show. West Side Story was crazy because it was very short – I was only there for four months before it closed. Rent was cool because it was my first original cast instead of replacing someone. I was the original Roger in the revival and we re-staged and did a lot of things different. It was fun to recreate the character instead of being plugged into a machine. Wicked is a whole different thing because it is one of the only shows with job security. This is a business with very little job security until you make it really big and have tons of money and fame, and even then we see – all the time – people lose that. It is amazing to be part of a show that you know is not going anywhere. It is booked years in advance and is doing incredible sales and companies around the world. It is nice to have some job security as an actor; it is a rare thing."

He prepared for his role as Fiyero, and took advantage of the time prior to starting the show, by researching as well as relaxing.

"I reread the (1995) book. I had read it in college. Even though there are a lot of differences – the book is much darker and more political and cerebral and my character is so far gone from the book – but I felt I could glean a lot from it. My girlfriend is an actress too and we like to say we steep in a role like tea. We get as much information as we possibly can in our heads about it and then let it go; take it out and not worry about the work anymore and let it speak for itself. That is what I try to do as much as possible. I knew about this job a few months in advance so I took a lot of vacation beforehand. I got to go to Portland with my dad, I went to Miami with my girlfriend while she shot a movie, and went home for Christmas. I have had two Christmases that I haven’t spent at home because of work. So I prepared and used my time beforehand. They really draw you in. I had three weeks of rehearsal, but it’s a few days here and there. You kind of get shot out of a cannon into it. Luckily no one got hurt, and I am pretty seasoned at it now that I have done over 100 performances."

With that number of performances under his belt it can be a challenge to keep things exciting. Shingeldecker explained how each performance can be subtly different.

"I personally try to keep it fresh every night and explore something new, not in a forced way, but in allowing whatever happens that night be there for that night and not trying to recreate something. That is not saying I am not saying the same lines and hitting the same spots, but I am still exploring, and that is what keeps it fresh and fun. I can’t really say a focused arc – it has just evolved over time. Every time I try something new it becomes a new layer to him, even if it fails, and I won’t ever do it again. It becomes another layer on top, and I have so much more to draw from if I keep doing that. It does get more difficult over time, but if you keep that practice up for yourself, it helps keep it fresh. We also have an amazing creative team that comes out all the time. I had rehearsal today from 1 to 5 and tomorrow as well. We have a replacement character so we rehearse quite a bit and they are very open to giving notes and changing things. It is never quite the same when they come out, and they see things and try to keep it fresh, and give whatever ideas they have to make it better."

What is the appeal of Wicked? You could ask 100 different people and get 100 different answers, especially among gay fans. For some it is the soundtrack, including the empowering anthem "Defying Gravity". For others it is the story of friendship, or of bullying and feeling alone.

"That is definitely part of the huge appeal... that friendship aspect. What appealed to me is a line that Glinda says early in the play are people born wicked or do they have wickedness thrust upon them? That is the main theme of the book and the show, nature vs. nurture, and it doesn’t really answer it for you in the show, it just takes you on these people’s journeys. You can decide for yourself what they were. I think, for the most part, a lot of things were thrust upon them and they made decisions based on things that happened to them. It is about looking at a story from another side. Every story is not just from the victor – there is another story that gets lost. At one point the Wizard says the truth is called history, that whoever wins writes it down. Which is fairly true historically. That is what this show does; it turns the story on its head. This woman who is so vilified in the Wizard of Oz, you get to see our take on her side of the story. I think that is really interesting. It is about labels, and how they are made up, and if we are caught in them it can be very dangerous."

Wicked is a show with a great deal of spectacle. However, beyond the spectacle, is a show with a great deal of depth that often is missed in the first viewing. Many fans suggest seeing it a few times to truly grasp everything happening in the show so, if you caught it three years ago or this is your first time, the appeal is endless.

"I really think that is true. Because the show has so many moving parts, the Tony-winning costumes, the lights are unbelievable, you get caught up in the spectacle of it all. We have some moments that we punch up through our acting. People have a really good time with the throwback moments to Wizard of Oz. It is such a big piece that sometimes people jump on the train and they miss pieces. Any good show should have a ton of layers so you will see something new and exciting. My character, in particular, is a little underwritten. I mean that... a lot of his change happens offstage and is an interesting challenge. It is amazing to play a carefree guy that masks any sort of real feeling to really caring and becoming a completely different person by the end of the play. That arc is a really amazing one to follow. When you come a second or third time you start to catch how all the characters change - How Boq changes, how Nessarose changes, how I change. You notice how Glinda and Elphaba change, as you are on their journey, but it examines in everyone [whether] people are born wicked or not. It shows that people can and do change depending on their circumstances, and what they want out of life. I highly recommend seeing it at least more than once so you can see it from a different angle."


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