‘Wicked’ Hits the Road, Carrying the Hopes of Broadway Tours
DALLAS – Talia Suskauer knows what it’s like to be green. She remembers the feeling of pigment and powder on her arms, neck and face; how the color seemed to seep into his pores and linger behind his ears; what it was to see a strange but familiar me staring through a mirror.
She had no idea that on a hot July afternoon in Dallas, getting a repaint would make her cry.
Sixteen months after the “Wicked” production tour in which Suskauer stars as the green-skinned witch Elphaba was forced to shut down, the cast and crew gathered in Dallas for a high-stakes effort to start over. . The show’s first performance here on Tuesday, the first of a touring Broadway production since the coronavirus pandemic shut down shows across the country, will be a sign of hope for a battered theater industry, but also a test at a time when the spread of the Delta variant once again has Americans on edge.
“Every show will be the first time someone has returned to the theater, so every show will be emotional,” Suskauer said. She had her own emotions to tap into, tearing herself apart as she lay back in the makeup chair for the first time since the tour stopped on March 13, 2020 in Madison, Wisconsin. “I felt like our goal was stripped,” she says, “and now, to come back, it’s overwhelming.”
Tours are an integral part of the commercial theater ecosystem. That’s a lot of money – in the last full theater season, 18.5 million people attended shows touring North America, and those productions grossed $ 1.6 billion.
The resumption of touring will once again allow people who live far from New York to see Broadway titles. And it will provide much-needed income for actors, musicians and other theater workers left unemployed by the pandemic.
“If someone doesn’t like a nationwide tour, there’s something they don’t get,” said Cleavant Derricks, who in 1982 won a Tony Award for his role in the original Broadway production of “Dreamgirls”, and who now plays the wizard on the “Wicked” tour. “You go from state to state, meet different people, learn about different sides of the country, and every night you hear a round of applause. How can you beat something like this? “
A revisionist story for “The Wizard of Oz,” “Wicked” is a musical theater juggernaut that first opened on Broadway in 2003, sold over $ 5 billion in tickets, and has been viewed by over $ 60 million. people in 100 cities around the world. The show, which revolves around a tense friendship between witches Elphaba and Glinda, has been going on for so long that Suskauer and her fellow Florida co-star, Allison Bailey, both saw it as children.
“I saw it in New York when I was in seventh grade, and it was so magical,” said Bailey, who plays Glinda. “That’s why I wanted to do theater.
“Wicked”, featuring songs by Stephen Schwartz, a book by Winnie Holzman and staging by Joe Mantello, has been touring North America since 2005. The tour now travels from city to city in 13 trucks that transport the scenery , sound and light equipment. , more than 300 costumes and about 100 wigs.
The touring company includes 33 actors, a team of 18, six musicians, three managers, two company leaders and a physiotherapist, as well as the 16 dogs, a cat and three ferrets brought for company. The touring company is then supplemented at each stop by 32 local crew members and nine local musicians, plus dozens of stagehands to help set the scene.
The resumption of the “Wicked” tour, which comes a month before the reboot of the first musicals on Broadway, will soon be followed by others: from mid-August, the touring productions of “Hamilton” will resume in San Francisco. , Los Angeles, Atlanta and Tempe, Arizona, and in September, tours of “Frozen” and “My Fair Lady”, as well as the play “What the Constitution Means to Me”, will hit the road.
In New York City, ticket holders for Broadway shows will be required to show proof of vaccination and wear masks, at least until October. In Dallas, the traveling production of “Wicked” requires vaccines for the cast and crew, but not for the audience, who will be tasked with wearing masks. Actors will not be allowed to interact with the audience, which means there will be no autographs or selfies on the stage door, or behind-the-scenes tours.
Early indicators show the public is eager to come back: the five-week race in Dallas has sold strongly and prices have remained stable, ranging from $ 25 for a lottery ticket to $ 169 for the top seats.
When the pandemic forced the tour to close last year, the team packed the set and costumes in boxes and left them in the Madison Theater, imagining they would be back in a few weeks. Then, as the shutdown dragged on, the team returned to load these boxes onto trucks. Ten of the trucks spent nearly a year in a Wisconsin truck yard, while three, containing temperature-sensitive electronics, wigs and a wardrobe, were sent to an air-conditioned warehouse in Pennsylvania.
Some of the company went home, but some didn’t have a home – they’re usually so on the road that they don’t need one – so they either stayed with their family or rented something out. go.
“Since I got married I’ve never been home for this long,” said Andrea DiVincenzo Shairs, tour manager of hair, who has worked with “Wicked” on and off since 2003. “I’ve been to Fort Lauderdale. – my husband is here – and we still love each other, so it worked!
The reunion was fun, but the reboot was complicated, and the show took three weeks to prepare at Dallas Music Hall in Fair Park, the 3,420-seat “Wicked” venue returning for the sixth time. The cast was rusty and had to rehearse the show, while the team had to assess each piece of equipment for possible damage after months of non-use.
“We were worried about what was going to come out of the trucks,” said David O’Brien, the tour’s production manager. “When we open these boxes of clothes, what are we going to find and what will be the smell? “
There were minor issues – a dimmer rack that needed to be reprogrammed and a warped plank in the floor that caused a sliding statue to jam – but for the most part the crew were delighted with the outfit of the equipment.
As the team put together Tony’s winning set, the cast rehearsed in the lobby, working on a floating floor rented from the Texas Ballet Theater. “You’ve been singing in your shower for 16 months, which is different from singing with multiple people,” said Evan Roider, tour music director, “but they came back ready to go.”
There were jokes about enlarged waistlines and forgotten dance steps. “It’s a little more cozy this time around!” Suskauer spoke about her costume when a button popped out while she was rehearsing.
As they worked in the theater, under a proscenium featuring the show’s red-eyed dragon, the actors were tweaking the details. “Watch out for your wand!” Associate Director Lisa Leguillou instructed Bailey as she rehearsed her entry into a floating bubble. “He’s covering your face!” “
There are, of course, new safety protocols, which the “Wicked” team shares in video meetings with crews from other tours as they too prepare to restart. Some measures are now familiar: abundant hand sanitizer, as well as masks and gloves and air cleaners. But there are also more theater-specific strategies. Ultraviolet wands are used to clean the inside of the masks, lest too much disinfectant give the actors headaches. Actors now scan QR codes for their daily recordings, instead of the traditional logon sheet on a clipboard. And partitions are being installed in the orchestra pit to try to contain any aerosols emitted by reed and brass instruments.
“Our biggest concerns have been how to reinvent the things we do in a Covid world,” said Steve Quinn, tour company director, who has toured with “Wicked” for 16 years. “We’re the guinea pigs, and we’re just trying to navigate this area.”
The company’s excitement about getting together and putting on a show is tempered by some anxiety, especially among the crew. “I want to make sure I’ve covered all of my bases, so no one gets sick or injured by something I haven’t thought about,” said Joyce B. McGilberry, tour makeup supervisor. “I wanted to come back, but I cannot deny my concerns.”
The travel agency has a wide range of experience. Rebecca Gans Reavis had been playing a flying monkey for just a week before the tour closed, while Laurel Parrish, the Advanced Wardrobe Supervisor, has been with “Wicked” since it opened on Broadway.
Heartbroken Reavis spent the pandemic in Wichita, Kan., Where she and her husband held teaching positions in her mother’s dance studio; Parrish, in upper Manhattan, worked for a cheese maker while embarking on passionate embroidery and needlework projects.
“I don’t think I knew how much I missed it until we got back to it,” Parris said. “Seeing the clothes was like seeing old friends.”
When two of the show’s cast members chose not to return after the pandemic, it created openings for the return of former student Clifton Davis, who at 75 is the oldest member of the tour, and a newbie, Anthony Lee Bryant, an Angeles-based Los Dancer who had auditioned for the show six times before landing a spot.
“The theater is resuscitating, thank goodness,” said Davis, who relishes a second time as Doctor Dillamond, a scholarly goat who taught at Shiz University when Glinda (then known as Galinda) and Elphaba were students there. Davis had already played the same role in 2012.
As Bryant scrupulously took notes on the dance moves and Davis practiced his bleating, some moments seemed sure to land differently, even though they had been created years ago. The main one: Glinda’s opening line, which Bailey speaks as she floats in her bubble.
“It’s good to see me, isn’t it?” “
“I think I’m going to say it the same way, but it will be different,” Bailey said. “I feel like I’m saying it on behalf of the theater itself.”
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