When Stephen Schwartz’s iconic Broadway musical Wicked first found it’s home at the Gershwin Theatre in 2003, success was not guaranteed.
The musical had a particularly large budget for a new Broadway show ($14 million), and initially received mixed reviews from critics, most notably from The New York Times’ leading theater critic Ben Brantley, who compared the show to “a slightly sweaty young college professor with a social conscience, hoping to win over his students by acting funky and cracking wise.”
And yet, 15 years after its debut on the Great White Way, Wicked has become one of the most successful Broadway shows ever created. Along with breaking box office records and becoming the second highest-grossing Broadway musical in history (just behind the long-running Disney classic The Lion King), the deconstructed retelling of The Wizard of Oz has become a cultural milestone.
To honor this show’s already iron-cast legacy 15 years after its inception, NBC is airing their very own celebration, A Very Wicked Halloween, to commemorate the iconic show. Featuring a star-studded cast of performers, including Ariana Grande, Adam Lambert, Ledisi and Pentatonix, the televised special (airing on Monday, October 29) will also feature the show’s two original leading women, Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, as the evening’s hosts.
Looking back 15 years later, Menzel is wistful about the show that helped launch her into her current super-stardom. “I feel really reflective, and it’s very poignant for me,” she tells Billboard. “I think any time in life when we have an opportunity to sort of stop and look back on something and see what your journey has been, or where you’ve come from or what you’ve learned, and the friends that you’ve made and how you got there — it’s important.”
Chenoweth is similarly reflective, although she admits that it feels strange to be looking back on such a recent show’s legacy. “It’s surreal, because in some ways it feels like it was yesterday, but in a lot of ways it feels like it was 15 years ago,” she says. “I’ve grown up so much, I’ve changed so much!”
The duo (who originated the roles of Elphaba and Glinda, respectively), are not only attending the special evening as emcees, but also as performers — along with performing their solo renditions of the now-classic showtune standards “Defying Gravity” and “Popular,” the two will officially reunite with a performance of their iconic show-ending duet “For Good.”
For Chenoweth, the moment feels almost inevitable. After an extremely successful career in theater and television that has earned her both a Tony and an Emmy Award, the actress knows that fans of the show deserve a proper reunion. “We should be so lucky, as artists,” she says. “We’re coming back together to do this very important moment in the show, ‘For Good.’ That’s the whole point of the show, is this moment of honest camaraderie between these two characters.”
But Menzel, the original Elphaba, sees this moment in a different sort of light. For her, this performance will mark a milestone in an already stunning career, which has most recently seen her become one of the most popular Disney characters in recent memory with Queen Elsa from Frozen.
The show, and the song “For Good,” Menzel says, is something that she constantly finds herself coming back to throughout her career. “I’m on the journey with everyone,” she says. “These are songs that grow and evolve with us as we get older — we don’t become immune to needing to find our confidence and our self esteem, there’s always something in our life where we need to remind ourselves that we are enough.”
“A Very Wicked Halloween” not only marks an anniversary for it’s two starlets, but as an opportunity for the bevy of other performers giving their own renditions of the show’s iconic soundtrack.
Adam Lambert, the pop-rock singer making headlines for his continued stint as Queen’s temporary frontman, has his own professional history with Wicked. Before appearing on his star-making season of American Idol in 2009, Lambert performed in the show’s national tour and its Los Angeles production as both a member of the ensemble and as the cavalier Prince Fiyero.
The singer says that the experience of performing in the show helped shape his life as a professional musician, while not necessarily having a major impact on his musical stylings. “My work ethic was definitely fine-tuned because of this production,” he says. “I think that I made a lot of friends that I ended up working with in my solo career, actually. Dancers, choreographers, directors, people that I met in the company as fellow performers I ended up working with years later. It did really affect me in so many ways as a professional performer.”
For the members of a capella supergroup Pentatonix, the experience of Wicked is deeply rooted in their upbringing as young adults and as artists. Kirstin Maldonado, one of the group’s five members, recalls that she can still remember singing along to the soundtrack as a teenager. “My poor mother,” she says with a laugh. “I would just play this soundtrack over and over and just be belting, screaming the lyrics along with the recording.”
Mitch Grassi, another member of the vocal quintet and of the pop duo Superfruit, said that the songs of the show served as a template of great theater music for the young aspiring singers of his generation. “It was such a huge part of our experiences as performers, and is definitely a huge inspiration, especially as musicians,” he says. “I mean, the soundtrack is just incredible.”
“A Very Wicked Halloween” serves as a chance, says Chenoweth, to pay tribute not only to the talented people who brought Wicked to life, but to the fans who helped make the show the megahit that it is. “I think it’s gonna be cool for the fans at home to be able to watch fans at the show watching the show,” she says. “Because, again, that’s what brings us all together. We’ve enjoyed and loved this show together over all these years.”
Menzel concurs, saying the great joy of her life is getting to play instantly memorable characters that find a way into the hearts and minds of millions. “There’s always another generation of young girls out there singing the words,” she says of Elphaba. “For a performer, there’s no greater gift than being able to hold the microphone out and to have these young kids, women and men singing along with you to this song because it means something to them, because it speaks for them and it’s helped them through some time in their life.”
A Very Wicked Halloween airs on NBC Monday, October 29 at 10 p.m. ET.