“The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz”: Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth Look Back at Wicked Ten Years Later
Tony Award-winning actresses Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, who created the respective roles of Elphaba and Glinda — the not-so Wicked Witches of Oz — take a trip down memory lane and individually chat with Playbill about the long-running, hit musical that stormed Broadway ten years ago.
“It was so good to be together again,” said Kristin Chenoweth, who recently met with Idina Menzel — her co-star and comrade in Wicked, which opened on Broadway Oct. 30, 2003 — in celebration of the show’s tenth anniversary at the Gershwin Theatre.
“I always knew it was something special in the beginning,” admitted Menzel, “but I had no idea that it would become this phenomenon.”
On Oct. 30, the Tony Award-nominated Best Musical Wicked hits a monumental milestone and joins the ranks of Mamma Mia!, Rent, Beauty and the Beast, Oh! Calcutta!, A Chorus Line, The Lion King, Les Misérables, Chicago, Cats and The Phantom of the Opera — musicals that have played for over a decade on the Great White Way.
Although Menzel did not suspect Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman’s Wicked to turn into the mega-hit musical that it is now — with theatregoers still rushing to the Gershwin and the production still topping box-office charts — Chenoweth did.
“I just remember saying to Idina, ‘Man… It’s not going to matter what the critics say. Do you hear that? Do you hear that audience?’ That’s what I remember from intermission,” Chenoweth recalled of opening night.
Menzel, on the other hand, “was probably out of my body a little bit” after taking flight Oct. 30, 2003, and “Defying Gravity” at the end of the show’s first act. “I get like that,” she admitted. “When I’m doing my thing — when I’m so involved in it — I can’t remember what I did, so that’s why you have people around you to tell you. You just lose yourself in what you are doing. And, those are the best moments.”
Taking on some of the best moments on Broadway, however, can be a little intimidating, and both Menzel and Chenoweth admitted to feeling the pre-opening pressure.
“[Director] Joe [Mantello] championed me from the beginning to end and always believed in me, but also put a huge pressure on my shoulders,” explained Menzel. “I wanted to do so well for him… There was a time where I was just having a hard day, and he came up to me and said, ‘You can do this. You are the f*cking Wicked Witch of the West. You have to believe that you’re the sh*t here.’ And, I did. I had to just get past some of my neurosis and step into it and stop being afraid, you know. He taught me that.”
As for Chenoweth, she initially felt hesitant about entering Oz by bubble. “I was a little nervous just because sometimes I get a little vertigo,” she said. “But I didn’t have that when I went up the first time… I didn’t think there was a better entrance for an actress ever created. So it’s kind of hard to follow that, actually! And, [producer] Marc Platt said, ‘You come down in a bubble and say, ‘It’s good to see me, isn’t it?’ It doesn’t get better than that, Kristin.’ I’ll never forget that.”
“I feel silly for saying this,” she added, “but I made [co-star] Norbert [Leo Butz] go shopping with me at Macy’s once before we opened because when I get nervous I want to shop! Norbert actually accompanied me to Macy’s, and I think we laughed the whole time, and we ate at the food court, and then I felt better.”
Nerves turned to excitement as the Tony Awards approached, and Chenoweth and Menzel each received a Leading Actress in a Musical nod for their performances as Glinda and Elphaba, respectively, in the show. Above all, the ladies admitted, they were “proud” to be representing two strong women as well as a show celebrating acceptance, friendship and equality on Broadway.
“I’m proud that there are two very beautiful, powerful women that are the centers of the story — that it deals with a sisterhood, if you will,” said Menzel. “[The Tony Awards were] definitely very, very, very exciting and emotional. I’d worked really hard, and I was up against all of those unbelievable women. I did not think I was going to win, so it was pretty astounding. In fact, I didn’t even think about a speech until that morning, and I was crying with my husband the morning of.” Menzel’s husband, Taye Diggs (who also starred in Wicked, while Butz was on a brief medical leave), helped her prepare.
“He was really helpful,” added Menzel, who took home the coveted award that night, “so later on it was really great when I was there and I hit all of my marks with the speech. He was so proud of me.”
“That night, I didn’t expect to win, but I was hoping for Idina,” said Chenoweth of the evening. “I’d seen a lot of the performances [of the season], and they were amazing… But, I have to say, I did want Idina to win. Not only did I want it for her, but I wanted it for our show, and I felt that she was deserving.”
Although their journeys in Oz came to an end, Menzel and Chenoweth have been, in fact, changed “For Good,” much like they sang in the show’s 11-o’clock number — a favorite part in the musical for both.
“To stand there opposite Kristin, whom I have so much love and respect for, and to be able to sing this incredibly written duet, it was just such an honor — a moment that you really try not to take for granted,” Menzel explained.
“That was my favorite moment, [and] it’s actually my favorite song in the show, too,” said Chenoweth. “I think it’s a moment in friendship… There are the themes of forgiveness and true love. And, that’s [the] story that people loved so much — a love story between two women.”
As for a return to Oz for Wicked’s tenth birthday, Chenoweth will be doing film work in Los Angeles, and Menzel will be in the midst of preparing for the D.C. engagement of the Broadway-bound If/Then, produced by Wicked producer David Stone.
However, the two continue to sing the songs they left their mark on in 2003. “You know, it changed my life in so many ways, so to get the opportunity to sing [the songs] when I’m gone from the show — in my own concerts — is a beautiful reminder of what I was part of and what I continue to be a part of.”
Chenoweth carries on with high hopes: “I said today to [Wicked company manager] Susan Sampliner, ‘What will we be doing for its 20th anniversary? What will be going on in our lives then?'”