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Something Wicked (And Queer) This Way Comes

Something Wicked (And Queer) This Way Comes

Something Wicked (And Queer) This Way Comes

It's been 15 years since Wicked premiered on Broadway, now it's celebrating with a very queer-friendly NBC telecast. 

The hit Broadway smash Wicked has captivated millions of theatergoers since premiering at the Gershwin Theatre in 2003, breaking the house record 24 times during its run while grossing $1.8 million a week -- not to mention successful national and international tours, including a residency at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in London's West End.

Tonight, to celebrate its 15th anniversary, NBC will be airing A Very Wicked Halloween: Celebrating 15 Years on Broadway, with performances by its original stars, Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, as well as familiar faces like Adam Lambert, Pentantonix, Ledisi, and Ariana Grande.

Nup_184726_0555Wicked tells the story of what happened in Oz before Dorothy dropped in, and is renowned for its anthem "Defying Gravity" and other favorites like "Popular," "The Wizard and I," and the duet "For Good." The special reunites Tony Award winners Menzel and Chenoweth, the original Glinda and Elphaba, who also serve as hosts.

For the original "Green Girl," it was a cathartic moment returning to the music that launched her into global superstardom.

"This kind of anniversary special makes you think about where you've come from, where you're going, what lessons you've learned," Menzel, who also originated the role in the West End, tells The Advocate. Menzel also originated the feisty lesbian Maureen in Rent, the 1990s Broadway sensation.

"After Rent, I thought I was on my way [up], but then I had a bunch of disappointments in my career: got dropped from my record label, couldn't really get a job for a while, and so Wicked was the first big thing that happened for me after that," she says.

Nup_184725_0247-1Though Menzel went on to break ground in a slew of other roles in theater and film, including voicing Elsa in Frozen, a character who many say has lesbian undertones, she admits the journey in finding Elphaba mirrored her own: overcoming fear while fully embracing her power.

"I had to overcome a lot of my own fear and really understand that all that stuff that makes me different and unique and messy and imperfect is what makes me powerful and beautiful," she says, adding that she is fully aware of the importance of her roles for theater-loving queer American youth. e

Following her role in Rent, Menzel says she "used to get letters all the time from young people struggling with their sexual orientation and wanting to come out." And now, "they relate to the Elphabas and the Elsas in a similar way. I guess it's just something about being marginalized and feeling sort of ostracized in this life and misunderstood. Seeing characters who aren't afraid to be who they are but struggle to get there and then finally own up to it. I guess that's inspiring.

"It's a gift," she adds of her LGBTQ fans. "It's important to connect with young people. One, because I'm in my 40s and I'm still trying to learn these same lessons, so if I have to remind myself of the things that make me fabulous, then I'm sure there are young people out there that could use a little assistance."

Nup_184726_0728As far as the fan traction toward Elsa's queer identity, she quips, "Elsa doesn't really know who she is yet; she's still figuring it out." In 2016, she spoke in full support of Disney highlighting the Ice Princess's queerness.

Before wowing audiences and shooting to stardom on the eighth season of American Idol, Lambert was cast in the first national touring production of Wicked. A wide-eyed young performer, he remembers it being the "most impressive job that I'd ever gotten" at the time. "We opened in Toronto, and I was in that production for about six months, and I left because I wanted to go try to be a rock star -- and I ran out of money in about five months."

A couple years later, Wicked saved him yet again when he was cast in the Los Angeles company at the Pantages Theater. The job "definitely paid the bills," he quips. "I was broke before Wicked," adding that he thinks the show has lasted 15 years because of its themes. "I think the idea of you can't judge a book by its cover, I think that's something that's very universal. I think that it reminds people to really question what's good and what's bad."

He adds, "Some of the overarching themes of witch hunts, and blame, and especially in the political climate we're in right now, it's interesting. It's very relevant and timeless all at the same time."

A Very Wicked Halloween: Celebrating 15 Years on Broadway airs tonight at 10 Eastern/Pacific on NBC.

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David Artavia