Above: Amanda Jane Cooper as Glinda and Emily Koch as Elphaba. Below: Wendy Worthington as Madame Morrible and Emily Koch as Elphaba. Photos by Joan Marcus. Bookmark & Share

Wicked Inspiration

Stephen Schwartz was on vacation with friends when a pal mentioned Gregory Maguire's novel Wicked. Schwartz was immediately captivated by the tale.

Wicked video

Schwartz, whose credits include writing the music and lyrics for Pippin, soon began the process of bringing Wicked to Broadway. His first task was to hire a collaborator, a writer who could create the spoken story to go along with his songs. He turned to Winnie Holzman. Holzman was best known for creating and writing TV's My So-Called Life and hadn't written for the stage in years. But Schwartz didn't let that deter him. "Winnie is very good at the specifics and nuances of character. Her people really come to life."

Here, the two writers talk about their collaboration, and the act of bringing their words to the Broadway stage.

StageNOTES®: Once Winnie had signed on, how did you start the writing process?

Winnie Holzman: We live on different coasts, so we talked on the phone at first, then got together a number of times in person. We talked about how we saw the show and how to tell this big, sprawling story.

Stephen Schwartz: We spent a year outlining the show and going to Marc Platt (Wicked's producer) and re-outlining. We were using the material Gregory Maguire provided, but also deciding what we wanted to leave out and what we wanted to add that wasn't in the book. I always knew I wanted to begin with the celebration of her death, and I knew where I wanted to end.

SN: Did you find yourselves identifying with certain characters?

SS: From the very beginning, Winnie really got the character of Glinda. She knew how to write it right away. That was really helpful to me because I wouldn’t have been able to get Glinda that successfully. On the other hand, I really understood Elphaba, and was able to point the way for Winnie a little bit.

SN: When did Joe Mantello, the director, come into the process?

WH: He came in about a year before our opening on Broadway.

SS: Winnie and I had been working together for a couple of years and had done two readings of the complete show. We felt like to keep revising it—that would be just spinning our wheels. A director would have a lot of his or her ideas and contributions to make.

WH: And that's exactly what happened. We'd been struggling with the animal issue in the plot. It was a difficult part of the story to tell—what's happened to the animals of Oz. Joe came in and saw the story fresh, and that was very helpful. That changed the way we saw the play, which enabled us to solve the problems and get to the next step.

SN: With all this rewriting, how close to opening night did Wicked become the show we see today?

SS: We had a run in San Francisco before coming to Broadway. And after San Francisco we did quite a bit of work. And we did quite a bit while the show was in previews in New York.

SN: Is it important for the writers to watch the show with the audience?

WH: Oh yes, we were there night after night.

Stuart Zagnit as The Wizard and Emily Koch as Elphaba.

SS: A musical is so collaborative, and depends so much on every element—who your cast is, what the design looks like, what the choreography is, what the orchestration sounds like—that you can't really know how your show is working until you see it in front of an audience. And that's when you do a great deal of work.

SN: A lot of people think that writers compose the songs and write the book and then get to go home.

WH: That was my dream—there's no place like home! I look back and see what a process it was and how, ultimately, it all got there. But there were times along the way where I felt very much kind of lost. Now I see that I was always plodding along to where I needed to be.

The National Touring Company of Wicked.

SS: This process is long and punishing and intense and contentious. We were fortunate that it wasn't contentious between the two of us. But it's inevitably contentious when you get more people involved. Anyone who thinks they are going to write a play because it's fun should find another line of work. It is not fun. But it can be satisfying, ultimately, and it can be exhilarating.

SN: If it's so tough, why do it?

SS: I think it’s worth it if you can look at the finished product and say, "I’ll put my name on this." I'm not saying there aren't things I'd do differently, but that's basically the show I wanted to do. That's a very satisfying feeling.

StageNOTES® : © 2004, Camp Broadway LLC® All rights reserved


Dates: February 17 – March 6, 2016
Tickets: $49 and up
For tickets and information, visit SCFTA.org
or call (714) 556-2787.
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With special underwriting from:
Jaynine and Dave Warner

The Center Applauds:
HOM Sotheby's International Realty

Media Partner:
Time Warner Media



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