Someday soon, Broadway’s endless intermission will … well, end.
Musicals — from “Hamilton” and “Hadestown” to “Chicago” and “Wicked” (shown here) – will return in September. But first, PBS will remind us what we’ve been missing.
A concert special will have Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel introduce “Wicked” tunes and sing the closing song. That’s 9 p.m. Aug. 29, 16 days before “Wicked” and three other musicals re-open.
“It’s a great way to welcome back audiences,” conductor Luke Frazier said. And to let performers finally emerge from their apartments.r of the pandemic via NBC’s “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.” Then came a stretch “without having sung anything for, like, five months.”
Alex Newell was lucky, singing through the first year of the pandemic via NBC’s “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.” Then came a stretch “without having sung anything for, like, five months.”
Suddenly, Newell had a chance to do it all – a flashy “Wicked” number, complete with four pianos and dance moves directed by Baayork Lee, 74, a Tony-winner.
“My favorite backstage moment,” Frazier said, “was when Baayork Lee was showing every single dance move and dancing on top of those pianos.”
Gabrielle Ruiz had a different intermission project. “I had a pandemic pregnancy,” she said.
Her daughter was born April 28; two weeks later, she got an E-mail asking her to join the “Wicked” special. She hesitated, huddled with her husband, then went for it. The airport was “the first time I had been around people …. I was so excited to be getting back to work.”
But she still didn’t know who who would be joining her, in a duet about school-time enemies. At the last second, it was resolved: Ruiz, a former “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” co-star, would sing with Amber Riley, a former “Glee” co-star. “It was such a joy to loathe one another in our duet immediately.”
None of these people have actually been in “Wicked” – not Ruiz or Riley or Newell, not Cynthia Erivo, Rita Moreno, Ariana DeBose, Isaac Powell and others, including country star Jennifer Nettles.
That’s on purpose, Lee said. It’s a chance “to have new energy, new blood.”
Stephen Schwartz, the “Wicked” composer, said that notion appealed to him instantly. “That’s one of the nice things about live theater …. It’s always changing; it’s different every night.”
Still, the special does have Chenoweth and Menzel, the show’s original stars.
The idea for “Wicked” began in 1995, with a novel that re-imagined the “Wizard of Oz” witches. Three years later, Schwartz got the stage rights and asked Winnie Holzman (the “My So-Called Life” creator) to write a script. By the time “Wicked” had its road try-out (2003, in San Francisco), Schwartz was more than 30 years removed from “Godspell” and “Pippin,” his two big hits.
“We were, of course, terrified,” he said. “We didn’t even know if the scenery was going to fall down.
“But when it started and Kristin came out in her bubble and said, ‘It’s good to see me, isn’t?’ and got a wonederful response from the audience, we were a bit relieved. Then Idina … got entrance applause.”
Reviews were mixed, but Schwartz had already built in a three-month rewrite period. “Wicked” opened on Broadway a half-hour shorter, to audience approval.
It drew 10 Tony nominations, but won only for its sets, costumes and Menzel. (“Avenue Q” was named best musical.) But it’s been thriving ever since … until COVID hit.
For 18 years, there’s been talk of a movie version. John Chu, who directed the “In the Heights” movie, is working on that now, Schwartz said.
Meanwhile, PBS pondered a concert version. The idea started before the pandemic, Schwartz said, but by the time it got to him, it was “a welcome-back Broadway concert. Obviously, that was exciting.”
So the numbers were taped in three cities, ranging from an orchestra to small combos.
Barring a late change, the timing works out neatly. On Sept. 2, four days after the PBS special, “Hadestown” re-opens. On Sept. 14, “Wicked,” “Hamilton,” “Lion King” and “Chicago” return. By the end of the year, seven other musicals open. The long intermission will be over.