Wicked Storms the Proctors Stage in Schenectady

When he saw Wicked’s first reading, David Stone cried.

That is when he knew that he wanted to back the show with his money behind it.

David Stone, along with Marc Platt his business partner, is one of Wicked’s producers. The enormously successful and popular Broadway musical is coming to Proctors and staying for almost a month. Shows begin on Wednesday.

By the time Platt invited Stone to get a peek at the hit in Los Angeles, he had been developing the project for three years. Stone has also produced other quirky hits such as “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and “The Vagina Monologues.”

Stone said, when I went to the reading, of course I expected it to be entertaining and delightful. But what I wasn’t expecting was to be so moved.

It was a very big deal for it to exceed my expectations.

According to Stone, it took a couple more years as well as the addition of Joe Mantello as the director before Wicked exploded to become the global hit it is known and loved for today.

Stone said, I went to the reading in early 2001. It wasn’t until late 2003 that we opened on Broadway. There were still a lot of years of readings, workshops and development. From that point it still was a very long process.

It was also a very long process backward.

Wicked’s roots stretch back all the way to the beginnings of the twentieth century. Frank L. Baum, an eccentric entrepreneur, dreamed a little book up about a place he called Oz.

“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was published May 1900, on Baum’s 44th birthday. It became a bestseller immediately as well as launching a cottage industry. Baum wrote an additional dozen books for his Oz series before he died in 1919. Other authors, such as Ruth Plumly Thompson, continued Baum’s Oz mantle. In 1939 the characters of Baum came to a very colorful life in MGM’s classic movie, “The Wizard of Oz.”

Starting in 1956, the movie was aired annually on network tv, making the story of Oz a key part of every American’s childhood.

In 1954 the young bookworm Gregory Maguire was born in Albany. He discovered Baum’s book all on his own. For years the story nagged at him.

He wondered why the witch was wicked. Why was Dorothy commanded by the Wizard of Oz to kill her?

In this late thirties, Maguire, a graduate of University at Albany and by this time a respected children’s write, finally took on his issues with Oz and wrote a parallel story in 1995. This one was written for adults.

“Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” Maguire’s book, begat “Wicked.”

Marc Platt, Winnie Holzman, book writer, and Stephen Schwartz, composer, all thought that “Wicked” deserved being a big musical. Once they had the initial script locked into place, they all set down the yellow brick road eventually leading to Stone’s door.

Stone said, whenever I told someone it was a musical concerning the Wicked Witch before she became wicked, their eyes would widen. Everyone wanted to know about the story.

In the play by Schwartz and Holzman, which does take some liberties from the original story by Maguire, Glinda (Kristin Chenoweth in the original role) and Elphaba (Idina Menzel, Tony Award winner, in the original role) start out as school friends, but as they grow older end up on different paths.

As the story goes, Glinda becomes Good Witch, while Elphie becomes Wicked Witch of the West.

However Maguire’s tale, although it hinged on the friendship of the two women, also explored ideas regarding abuse of power, skin color and animal rights.

After all, the show debuted while Bush was in office.

By Julie Harmon On December 3, 2009

All photos made available via creative commons licensing courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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