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An upended retelling of “The Wizard of Oz," “Wicked” mixes vulnerability, feminist passion and plenty of laughs playing off famous bits from the classic movie.

Michele Chiappetta
August 28, 2018

Ever wondered what is the true story of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz? That’s the idea behind the Broadway musical Wicked, which is coming to the Tulsa Performing Arts Center Sept. 5–23, 2018.

Based loosely on the novel of the same name by Gregory Maguire, Wicked the musical tells the story of the two most well-known women with magical powers in the Land of Oz, long before Dorothy shows up. Elphaba, born with emerald-green skin, is smart, fiery and misunderstood. Glinda is beautiful, ambitious and popular. Their unlikely friendship creates a rich story of right and wrong, companionship and rivalry — and ultimately, forgiveness and redemption.

First launched on Broadway Oct. 30, 2003, Wicked is about to hit its 15th anniversary on the Great White Way. It recently surpassed A Chorus Line to become Broadway’s sixth-longest running show, and is Broadway’s second-highest grossing show ever.

No wonder its national touring production is so popular as well. It’s coming through Tulsa this month for the fourth time — and showing no signs of losing its attraction to those who love a good story, fantastic performances and a great musical score.

Mary Kate Morrissey as Elphaba
Mary Kate Morrissey as Elphaba

Wicked’s touring production offers a thrilling ride to please audiences, says Jason Graae, a Tulsa native who is starring as the Wizard of Oz and is thrilled to be back in T-Town to share one of his favorite musicals with Green Country residents young and old. Graae moved to Tulsa from Chicago when he was in fourth grade, attended Lee Elementary School, and lived in Tulsa’s Maple Ridge neighborhood.

“My official debut [onstage] was in seventh grade,” Graae says, recalling that singer-songwriter and Sand Springs native Sam Harris was also in the production — the musical George M! “That was the beginning of theater for me.”

Soon enough, Graae was hooked on stage work and was actively involved in local performances through Tulsa Little Theater (now known as Theatre Tulsa). “We would audition and rehearse at Harwelden Mansion, which was enormous and magical and exciting,” he says. He also has fond memories of attending Edison Preparatory School, where he performed roles such as Sancho Panza in The Man of La Mancha.

Graae’s ties to Tulsa remain strong, with many of his friends still living in the area. And his ties to the local arts here are strong too. He has assisted Theatre Tulsa in directing and building a commercial run of the musical Forever Plaid. And he has performed in the smaller venues at the Tulsa PAC. Wicked will be his first performance in the PAC’s Chapman Music Hall.

Jason Graae as The Wizard

Wicked is such a spectacular show,” Graae says. “I’m just so proud to be in it. It’s so moving. It’s so resonant. It’s morphed really well into what’s going on in today’s world. It’s a beautiful story and told so impeccably. I just love being a part of it.”

Though the musical’s chief characters are Elphaba (who one day becomes the Wicked Witch of the West) and Glinda (who eventually becomes Glinda the Good Witch), Graae’s character, the Wizard of Oz, is both iconic and essential to the Land of Oz and Wicked. The Broadway role was originated by actor Joel Grey, but every actor puts his own spin on the role, and Graae is no different.

“Joel Grey is one of my heroes, but his was a very different take [on the role],” says Graae. “I see the wizard as a con man. He was in a balloon and landed in Oz accidentally. He was doing everything he could selling his elixirs back in Omaha. Then he lucked into this job and made a name for himself.”

Though the Wizard isn’t exactly qualified to rule Oz and can’t do the magic everyone believes he is capable of, “he’s not one to turn down the attention or the position,” says Graae. “So he has to keep his people happy. He’s got to not give it away that he doesn’t really know what he’s doing. He really is just trying to keep his position. And he’s a vulnerable guy, trying to make things right in Oz. I see him as anybody that’s trying to make their way in the world, doing the best he can.”

The current run of the touring production began earlier this year, and it’s been a great ride for Graae and his fellow performers. “Everybody’s been so great, and it’s really been fun,” he says. “The cast is just perfection. The company I’m working with from top to bottom is spectacular, at the top of their game. I was so blown away by that.”

Whether you’ve seen Wicked in theaters before or not, it’s worth seeing this time around. For starters, there is the beautiful score, which was written by Stephen Schwartz (known for scoring Godspell and Pippin, among other projects). Then there’s the script, written by Winnie Holzman (creator of My So-Called Life). It’s stellar.

“To me, the mark of a great piece of theater is that it can speak to people for different reasons,” says Graae. “It has a wonderful score by Stephen Schwartz, and a script by Winnie Holzman that’s so funny, yet so touching. The story speaks to everybody. The two of them [Elphaba and Glinda] and the friendship they have and trying to understand the other person’s position — I think that’s eternal, that kind of relationship. And it’s moving.”

Audience-goers can expect a fantastic performance that mirrors the quality of an authentic Broadway show. “The production values are all magnificent,” says Graae. “Everything about it is what you’d see on Broadway, and it’s as good as it gets.”

Tulsa Performing
Arts Center | Tulsa
Sept. 5: 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 6: 2 p.m., 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 7: 8 p.m.
Sept. 8: 2 p.m., 8 p.m.
Sept. 9: 1 p.m., 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 11-13: 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 14: 8 p.m.
Sept. 15: 2 p.m., 8 p.m.
Sept. 16: 1 p.m., 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 18-20: 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 21:  8 p.m.
Sept. 22: 2 p.m., 8 p.m.
Sept. 23: 1 p.m., 6:30 p.m.