PBS special celebrates Tony-winning musical ‘Wicked’

Rick's Reviews

Gabrielle Ruiz performs “I’m Not That Girl (Reprise)” in “Wicked in Concert.” (Photo courtesy of PBS)

Something “Wicked” this way comes courtesy of PBS.

There has always been a connection between public television and theater, one of the biggest industries hit by the pandemic. Now that theaters – including those on Broadway – are reopening, PBS executives wanted to mark the occasion.

It is being done through “Wicked in Concert: A Musical Celebration of the Iconic Broadway Score” scheduled to air at 9 p.m. Aug. 29 on Valley PBS. The musical event will feature reimagined, never-before-heard musical arrangements created just for this broadcast, performed by celebrity artists from the worlds of film, pop music and television.

PBS executives have been trying for years to find the right format to feature the Tony-winning Broadway show based on the book by Gregory Maguire. Luke Frazier, the conductor/arranger for this special event, is happy the details were finally finalized.

“I think PBS is the perfect platform to share this music to such a broad audience, maybe to audiences where Broadway tours don’t get to or it is not easy to get to New York to see the show,” Frazier says. “What better way to reach the country than through a PBS special.”

“Wicked” looks at what happened in the Land of Oz from a very different point of view. Long before Dorothy arrives, there is another young woman, born with emerald-green skin, who is smart, fiery, misunderstood, and possessing an extraordinary talent. When she meets a bubbly blonde who is exceptionally popular, their initial rivalry turns into the unlikeliest of friendships.

It is now the fifth longest-running show in Broadway history and has been performed in over 100 cities in 16 countries around the world. “Wicked” has been seen by over 60 million people worldwide and has amassed over $5 billion in global sales. 

The evening is co-hosted by the two actors who were present from the start as the original stars of “Wicked” when it debuted on Broadway in 2003 – Emmy and Tony Award-winner Kristin Chenoweth and Tony Award-winner Idina Menzel. Stephen Schwartz, who wrote the music and lyrics for “Wicked,” is delighted Chenoweth and Menzel are the hosts.

Schwartz says, “Obviously I love both those ladies very much. I’m so happy that the show brought them such recognition. That’s one of the powers of musical theater.”

The PBS special features performances by Mario Cantone, Gavin Creel, Ariana DeBose, Cynthia Erivo, Stephanie Hsu, Rita Moreno, Jennifer Nettles, Alex Newellm, Isaac Powell, Amber Riley, Gabrielle Ruiz and Ali Stroker.

Ruiz, a Broadway veteran best known for her work on the series “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” jumped at the chance to be part of the PBS special. The Texas native credits public television with giving her the chance to be exposed to great theater through programs such as “The Light in the Piazza” on “Live from Lincoln Center.”

“It just moved me. That was one of the moments in my young years as a performer – catching up as a musical theater performer – that I wanted to do this as a career and that there was a possibility,” Ruiz says. “I am just so grateful that I get to perform ‘Wicked’ in two iconic roles and with wonderful performers now in my career.

“To then extend that to that other little girl in South Texas that has never seen or heard ‘Wicked’ before.”

Many of those connected to the PBS special are just excited that live theater is returning. Alex Newell was able to keep busy during the pandemic with a role on “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” but live theater is now calling and it starts with “Wicked.”

“I got to find my love of what I do again,” Newell says. “But I am so ready to get back on stage, and this concert really revitalized that passion I have for live performance. Singing with an orchestra, I sung with just four pianos, it was just so nice to have that energy underneath me

“I saw the first Broadway show that opened back up, a play, and it was stunning just to sit in the theater with people, just to sit next to people was so beautiful, and in our own community. So I am itching to get back to it all.”

The performers are getting to perform such musical numbers as “The Wizard and I,” “Defying Gravity,” “Popular, Wonderful,” “No Good Deed,” “For Good” and “As Long As You’re Mine.”

Schwartz has no problem with different performers singing variations on his original work.

“One of the nice things about live theater is that it is alive. It’s always changing. It’s different every night, which makes it scary a little bit, but so exhilarating.

“As much as I love our original cast, the excitement of things being live and new was really something that this particular ‘Wicked in Concert’ on PBS strove for and tried to celebrate is one of things that I think is most exciting about the show.”

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