"Wicked," Stephen Schwartz's 2003 Tony-winning prequel to "The Wizard of Oz," returns Wednesday for a five-week run at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. It's the sixth time the tour has landed at the Orpheum, and all the engagements have been extended ones that draw roughly 100,000 patrons to Hennepin Avenue. Young diehard fans are among that number.
The national tour is headlined by Wauwatosa, Wis., native Lissa deGuzman, who plays Elphaba, the green-skinned outcast with magical powers. DeGuzman, who appeared in "Aladdin" and "King Kong" on Broadway, acts opposite Texan Jennafer Newberry, who plays her bubbly friend Glinda.
The Star Tribune asked three young Minnesota actors why they are smitten by "Wicked" — Hugo Mullaney, a sophomore at Wayzata High School whose credits include Winthrop Parooin "The Music Man" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres; Audrey Mojica, a sophomore at St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists whose biggest role to date is the title character in "Annie" at the Children's Theatre Company; and Sofia Salmela, a sophomore at Duluth East High School who played the title character in "Matilda the Musical" at the Children's Theatre.
The teens, all 15, talked about their favorite characters and what is often misunderstood about the musical.
Hugo Mullaney: To me, the appeal of "Wicked" is that it's about people who're pushed to the side. We can relate to Elphaba being bullied and excluded.
Audrey Mojica: I'm a biracial girl in theater. Although my difference is not as extreme as having green skin, I know what it's like being an outsider trying to fit in. Even in school, people sometimes look [quizzically] at me.
Sofia Salmela: It was one of the first big shows I saw — the national tour at the Orpheum. I was 10, and it was just magical.
A common misunderstanding
Hugo: People see it as a villain origin story for the Wicked Witch, and how she became evil. But what it's really trying to show is the heart she had, her back story and how she's not at fault.
Audrey: The biggest thing about the show for me is that the friendship between Glinda and Elphaba is so strong. There's this big ball scene where Glinda is trying to make fun of Elphaba but then she has this lightbulb moment and decides to protect her instead, so she starts dancing with her. That's a powerful scene that not a lot of people talk about, but they're kind of protecting each other throughout the whole show.
Sofia: Elphaba, definitely. I like that she's the different one in the school. Everyone doesn't understand her and they misjudge her. But she's just a kind person at heart and no one gets that until she meets the right people.
Hugo: Definitely Glinda. I enjoy her bubbly personality. She's extroverted and social, which is a lot of the traits I have, as well.
Audrey: Elphaba. I love the music and the dancing and that she has this strength. I want to be Elphaba singing onstage and stuff.
Life with 'Wicked'
Audrey: Aside from visibly in my room? The big thing for me is friendship. My best friend is very different from me. Two opposite people coming together and creating a bond, that's important and awesome.
Sofia: I have a lot of friends who're into theater so we bond over the fact that we listen to it, know the songs and dream about the roles. For one of my choir concerts, my friend got to do the Glinda solo, "Popular."
Hugo: Because the music is universal, it's something my friends and I can all relate to.
'Oz' or 'Wicked'?
Sofia: "The Wizard of Oz" is a classic but I like "Wicked" better because it's more modern and it's a cool spin. The Wicked Witch gets to be the hero, not the villain.
Hugo: Although I haven't seen "Oz," I know a couple of the songs from the show that I really enjoy. While I like the music from "Oz," the story from "Wicked" is more powerful.
Audrey: When I was younger, every time someone brought up "The Wizard of Oz," they would talk about how the Wicked Witch of the West was so evil and horrible. I would always say, oh, she's just misunderstood or she had a really bad childhood and it didn't work out. But now I know that what she did was act selflessly. She sacrificed her friendship with Glinda and became this villain character, but it was to save someone else. We put people in boxes but people are more complicated than that.
Those 'Wicked' songs
Sofia: I sing the songs to myself all the time for practice. Elphaba and I have similar range. But it's all in private. Someday, hopefully, I'll do them in public.
Hugo: When I was younger, me and my sister would perform songs from the show for our parents. We would dress up as the characters and stuff and sing.
Audrey: It was the first musical I ever went to. My parents surprised me for my birthday. We went to a really fancy dinner and when I saw the big headline of "Wicked," I was screaming. I got a "Wicked" cake. And I got a book of the show which is still on my dresser. I remember I had to lie about my age to get into the theater because I may not have been old enough to see it. After that, I listened to the soundtrack every day and I would just watch so many YouTube videos. "Wicked" holds a big place in my heart.
Who: Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Book by Winnie Holzman. Directed by Joe Mantello.
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wed., 1 & 7:30 p.m. Thu., 8 p.m. Fri., 2 & 8 p.m. Sat., 1 & 6:30 p.m. Sun. Ends Aug. 28.
Tickets: $54-$194. 1-800-982-2787 or hennepintheatretrust.org.