Glinda’s famous first lines in Wicked are expected to get rapturous applause when it reopens on Broadway 18 months later on September 14 at the Gershwin Theatre.
Before the curtain goes up again, fans can enjoy a concert version of the beloved musical airing on PBS this Sunday, August 29 at 9 PM EST. This special performance features some of Broadway and TV’s biggest stars including Rita Moreno, Cynthia Erivo, Gavin Creel, Ariana DeBose, Amber Riley, Alex Newell, Isaac Powell, Stephanie Hsu, Mario Cantone, Gabrielle Ruiz and Jennifer Nettles singing Stephen Schwartz’s iconic songs in special arrangements that you’ve never heard before.
Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, Wicked’s original leading ladies co-host the evening. “They’re legends, come on!” the concert’s director Baayork Lee, A Chorus Line legend herself, said of working with both of them. “You have half the generation saying that they’ve never seen A Chorus Line, but they’ve certainly seen Wicked,” she added of the show’s cultural success as the fifth longest-running show on Broadway.
Wicked in Concert marks Lee’s TV directorial debut. She had previously worked with executive producer Robert Pullen, who asked her to take on the prestigious role of directing the event with the celebrity talent already in place.
“I said, ‘Listen, I’ll pay you for the job,’” she said to him about the opportunity after not working for a year and a half. “I was so happy to get work.”
The concert was taped over the summer in various locations in New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. Locations included: The Warner Theatre (D.C.), Triad Theatre and The Flea Theatre (NYC), and The Broadwater Second Stage (LA). For Lee, it was an honor to be at the helm of this celebration paying tribute to Schwartz’s score with new song arrangements by Luke Frazier featuring the American Pops Orchestra.
“Oh my God. O.M.G. You can put that in quotes!” she exclaimed.
It was also a chance to reunite with old friends and meet some new ones, including Gavin Creel who performs a duet with Ali Stroker. “It’s the story,” Creel explained of Wicked’s draw. “I think the main thing is the story of feeling different, knowing you have something special within you and not feeling like you know how to be able to communicate it.”
Earlier this year he performed “Popular” at the Lyric Opera, noting Schwartz’s lyrics as one of the reasons why Wicked remains popular (pun intended) today. “This song is genius. The rhyme schemes, what it says about humanity, about this character, about us – It’s brilliant.”
Creel was actually part of an early workshop of Wicked with Sutton Foster before it went to Broadway, and before they both starred in 2002’s Thoroughly Modern Millie. Only 23 at the time, he had just finished another workshop that was showcased in front of Stephen Schwartz and Stephen Sondheim. Shortly after, Creel’s agent called with an offer to play Boq, then, an “oddly tall munchkin” (he’s 6’2″), for a December 2001 reading of Wicked that included Menzel and Chenoweth. He says Foster was cast in the ensemble. But before they could move any further with the show, Millie was ready to go into production.
“It’s neat to think about. I hadn’t really thought about [the workshop] until [this concert taping].”
It’s prior connections with each of the artists that, too, made this show very special for Baayork Lee. “Gabrielle [Ruiz] was 19 years old when she worked for me in A Chorus Line. Ariana [DeBose] auditioned for A Chorus Line but she turned me down and took another job when she was younger. Then she ends up in Hamilton singing “What I Did For Love” (as a tribute for its 40th anniversary at The Public Theatre) and I’m there. Now I’m working with her on Wicked.”
On set, Lee and Rita Moreno sang “Getting to Know You” together because they both did versions of The King and I.
“I had so much in common with the actors. That was the wonderful part for me,” she recalled.
The most challenging part of taping this special in a pandemic, Lee says, was navigating schedules and getting the cast in the same room.
It was all worth it, she believes. “I think it’s to promote theater and the arts. Most importantly, to get the audience back into the theatre.”
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