Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Iconic Nature of Glinda and Elphaba.

Chandra Lee Schwartz as Glinda and Donna Vivino as Elphaba in 2009.
Hey y'all, I was thinking about something this morning, and the thought isn't totally complete, but I thought I'd make a post to let you know what I have been thinking about!  Please let me know your thoughts! :)
Glinda and Elphaba (a have become hugely influential roles in the world of Musical Theatre, there's no doubt about that.  Young girls and women dream about playing Elphaba, Glinda or Nessarose one day, "Defying Gravity" and "Popular" have been added to the DO NOT lists for auditions by many because of the overwhelming love for performing those songs.
However, I was thinking about the way that Wicked fans keep up with the cast changes even 10 years
Jenn Gambatese as Glinda in 2013
into the show's run.  I can personally name everyone who has ever played either role.  I could tell you who replaced who in which company, and what year it happened.   I know many other people who could do the same thing, and this fascinates me.  Other long running shows such as Phantom, Rent, The Lion King and Mamma Mia! certainly have their strong fan bases (particularly the Phans and the RentHeads) but I have never seen another show's fanbase rally around its performers the way Wicked fans do!  Often times, a long running show will simply become a machine that keeps on moving, and many people don't particularly care who is playing the role as long as they do a good job.  This isn't always the case, but it occurs with many shows.
Annaleigh Ashford and Dee Roscioli
as Glinda and Elphaba in 2008
In the words of Paul Wontorek from, it seems that no matter what, every actress that ever plays Elphaba or Glinda (even if it's an understudy thrown on for a random performance) gets a fan base.  I love that about Wicked fans, we are a very supportive bunch.  For the most part, when an understudy goes on for the first time, we are all waiting to hear about it and most of us expect only the best!  Fan pages pop up all over Facebook to support understudies and standbys who are often making their professional debut directly out of college.

The question is, why?  What is it about these roles that make people flock to and rally around the actresses that play them?  Sure, lots of theatre kids know who lots of people are in many different shows.  However, Wicked seems to be that special show!  I think that it is because the characters are so different from one another, and when you combine them you get the ultimate female.  Glinda is a soprano who gets to be funny, silly and also sincere. She deals with being superficial and spoiled to realizing who she truly is and finding herself through Elphaba and Fiyero.  Elphaba is a big belter who sings the iconic pop anthems of the show and gets to be dark and witty, all while anchoring the show. 
Anne Brummel as Elphaba in 2011
I think the combination of the inspiring aspects of the characters, the talent of the performers playing them, and kindness of the performers offstage is what brings about such a dedicated following and why the cast members don't just become a part of the "Wicked machine."  The performers all have such energy about them and clearly love doing the show.  Another aspect is that the show inspires a lot of people to begin pursuing a theatrical dream, whether it be a desire to be on Broadway one day, or just a newfound obsession with theatre.  Wicked is a lot of people's first Broadway show, and a show that changes their life.  I think it a lot of people don't forget the inspiring people they saw in such a defining moment of their lives and want to keep up with them from then on.  I remember seeing the show for the first time and remembering how powerful I thought Shoshana Bean was as Elphaba.  When I got back from New York, I remember googling her immediately.  I didn't actually discover YouTube until 2006, and as much as I understand why bootlegs are not good for live theatre, I am so
Teal Wicks as Elphaba and Kendra
Kassebaum as Glinda in 2009.
grateful that people film the show because I love seeing all of the different witches online.  I think that since people film the show, people looking up Wicked for the first time get exposed to way more people in the roles due to the fact that there are so many productions worldwide, and therefore people pick their favorites and then discuss them with other fans.  I cannot tell you how many times I have met another Wicked fan and our conversation starts with "Who did you see as Glinda and Elphaba?"  That has even happened to me with people who AREN'T enormous fans of the show.  The roles are just so prominent that it is impossible not to know a little something about who you saw!

What do you guys think?  What can explain the fan culture of Wicked?  Who have you guys seen as Glinda and Elphaba and who are your favorite witches?

Comment below, email me at or tweet me @FlyingHighWKD!
Alli Mauzey and Lindsay Mendez as Glinda and Elphaba
in 2013.


Melissa said...

I've certainly noticed this and I wasn't sure if other shows did this or not! Very interesting article. I know I keep up with cast changes constantly, understudies and standbys as well. I keep track of those I've seen as Elphaba and Glinda and see what other things they're doing afterwards as well, and I get really excited when they return to Wicked! I know I'm really excited that Christine Dwyer is back on Broadway as the green girl s/b after seeing her on tour. Every actress certainly does have their own fanbase, and I think that's really cool. I don't know the reason why though.

flyinghighwithwicked said...

Thanks for the comment! Christine Dwyer is amazing and totally deserves to be on Broadway! I was really sad when Donna Vivino left, because she is my favorite person to play the role, but if anyone could fill those shoes, it's Christine Dwyer! -Kyle