After two years playing Glinda in the West End production of "Wicked," Gina Beck had to learn her whole part in American to cross the pond for the U.S. touring show.
"I had to consciously think about everything in a different accent," the British actor said in a phone interview from Tulsa, Okla. "The whole thing works better in an American accent, I guess, because it was written by an American."
"Wicked," of course, is the still-playing, still-touring, still-setting-box-office-records Broadway musical, with a book by Winnie Holzman and music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. The musical spins the backstory of the relationship between Glinda and Elphaba, the beloved characters in "The Wizard of Oz," adapted from Gregory Maguire's novel "Wicked The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West."
As show promoters say: "So much happened before Dorothy dropped in."
The show sets down Wednesday, July 9, for an extended run, its third in Salt Lake City. Local fans are known for their record-setting love of the "Wicked" soundtrack; Salt Lakers were ranked in the top 10 cities for purchasing it, even before the show first played at the Capitol Theatre in 2009, says "Wicked" co-producer David Stone, whose Broadway producing credits also include "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" and "Next to Normal." Utah fans also distinguish themselves by selling out "Wicked" theater tickets quickly, Stone says.
Corinne Rampton, of Salt Lake City, camped overnight outside the Capitol Theatre box office in December 2008 to buy tickets for the show when it first played in Utah. She's seen the show on Broadway, returned for the 2012 Utah run and is considering returning again.
"The songs, especially, are timeless, as far as musicals go, and they appeal to a broad range of ages and people," she says. "They're so catchy."
"Wicked" has left its mark on downtown, as well. When the show first played at the Capitol Theatre, engineers had to install additional steel I-beams to hold the heavy proscenium arch and sets. "Wicked" sets are the heaviest of recent touring shows, stage managers said.
Stone speculates the story's questions about who is good and who is wicked, about politics and morality, about appearances and deceit, are subjects that interest audiences. In addition, "Wicked's" spectacular sets and costumes appeal to a variety of theatergoers. And the story unfolds more of its secrets such as the embedded clues that link this prequel to the beloved "The Wizard of Oz" on multiple viewings. Whatever it is that makes the show so popular with local theatergoers, producers would like to bottle it, Stone says with a laugh.
Ten years on, that popularity continues with theatergoers across the country. The first national tour, which has been out for 9 ½ years, has set sales records in every single American city it has played. The show plays to packed houses, and "we get standing ovations every night," Beck says.
The musical has been translated into five languages and continues a nearly eight-year-run in London, where the show attracts "Wicked" crazies, fans who line up to buy front-row tickets, available daily at 10 a.m. Actors get to know all the regulars. "I know them all well," Beck says. "It's like having a little cheering squad out there of people you recognize."
Performing with the U.S. tour has meant more opportunities to work with the original artistic team, including director Joe Mantello. "They are the gods of the musical," she says. "It's like meeting your maker."
Mantello and his team have encouraged their lead actors to make the characters their own casting off the shadows of Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel in the original Broadway production. That kind of artistic freedom has helped to keep the show fresh, Stone says. The actors who have played Glinda have different voice types, different heights, different performing energy, Beck adds
In addition, Stone says the creative team has encouraged small cultural changes to make the show work for international audiences. For example, when the show went to Japan, translators didn't at first understand the concept of popularity. They assumed Glinda was a celebrity, like Paris Hilton.
In Britain, Glinda is considered a daddy's girl and, as Beck says, "a posh little princess," while American audiences consider the character a peppy former cheerleader. "We don't really have a cheerleader type," Beck says. "In Britain, everything is downplayed. I guess we're just less enthusiastic."
Beck, 31, will perform the role for the first weeks of the Salt Lake City run. She's a classically trained actor who graduated from London's Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, Laurence Olivier's alma mater, where she didn't specialize in singing. (Instead, she learned to sing from an opera singer in her hometown.) She went on to perform in London productions of "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Les Misérables" and played a small part in the movie adaptation of "Les Miz."
She loves playing the multifaceted character of Glinda, who goes on a journey and "little hiccups get in the way." She loves singing the score's really high notes and she loves her nightly front-row view from the stage-right cog of her castmate Elphaba (played on the tour by Alison Luff and now Emma Hunton) in the high-flying Act I closer, "Defying Gravity."
The score was difficult to sing in the beginning, she says, but not so much now after 950 performances in the role.
No one mourns the 'Wicked'
MagicSpace Entertainment brings the national tour of "Wicked" back to the Capitol Theatre for its third Salt Lake City run. "Wicked's" music and lyrics were written by Academy Award winner Stephen Schwartz ("Pippin," "Godspell" and Disney's "Enchanted," "Pocahontas" and "The Prince of Egypt") with a book by Winnie Holzman ("My So Called Life," "Once and Again" and "thirtysomething"), based on Gregory Maguire's 1995 novel. The musical is directed by Tony Award winner Joe Mantello ("Take Me Out" and "Assassins").
Dates • July 9-Aug. 24: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday; additional Thursday matinees at 2 p.m. July 10 and Aug. 14.
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $55-$175 (plus $8-$9 in fees); 801-355-2787 or artix.org
Tip • Tickets are mostly sold out except for Sunday shows or late August dates.
Also • A limited number of orchestra seats will be available in a day-of drawing. You can sign up at the Capitol Theatre box office 2 ½ hours before showtime for the chance to win two tickets. Names will be drawn 30 minutes later. Tickets are available for $25 each, cash only; valid photo ID required.
'Wicked' by the numbers
On Oct. 30, 2013, "Wicked" celebrated the 10th anniversary of its Broadway run. It has broken house box-office records at the Gershwin Theatre 22 times and regularly grosses more than $1.8 million per week.
"Wicked" won more than 90 major international awards, including the Grammy Award, the Olivier Award, six Helpmann Awards, three Tony Awards and six Drama Desk Awards.
The Grammy-winning (Best Musical Show Album) soundtrack has sold more than 3 million copies.
As of June 8, 8 million people have seen the show on Broadway, making it the Great White Way's highest-grossing show for nine consecutive years.
The first national tour, launched in March 2005, has been traveling across North America for 750 weeks, breaking the house record in every single city where it has played. The second national tour launched in March 2009 in Florida. Some 15 million people have seen the two national touring shows.
The novel "Wicked" by Gregory Maguire, published in 1995, has sold 5 million copies, 4.5 million since the musical was launched in 2003.
"The Grimmerie," a book about the making of the musical, has sold more than 250,000 copies, the best-selling book of its kind in theater history.
The show opened in London in 2006 and has played for more than 3,000 performances.
It opened in Japan and Germany in 2007; in Australia in 2008; in The Netherlands in 2011; and in Mexico City and Korea in 2013.