Interview: 'Wicked' stars on the show's 'Popular' appeal

Carrie St. Louis and Alyssa Fox in 'Wicked.' Photo by Joan Marcus

Carrie St. Louis and Alyssa Fox play unlikely friends on stage in ‘Wicked,’ and have developed a close bond off-stage as well. Photo by Joan Marcus.

When the national touring production of Wicked returns next week, Denver will become the first city in the nation to have hosted the international stage phenomenon for a fifth time. The prequel to The Wizard of Oz has been playing continuously on Broadway for 11 years, and there have been multiple touring companies since 2005.

And if you ask Alyssa Fox, who plays Elphaba in the production opening in Denver on June 3, this might be just the beginning. Because there are no signs of Wicked ever slowing down.

“Not at this point,” said Fox. “I can see Wicked running for another 20 years, honestly.”

The story about what it really means to be popular is, itself, very, very popular. A recent survey of Denver Center audiences found some who have come to see the show as many as 17 times during Denver stops alone. Several mothers and daughters reported having seen the show together at every previous Denver engagement, and that seeing the show regularly has become a defining bond in their relationships.

That, Fox said, is likely because of the strong female presence in the show.

“It’s not often you see two female characters on the stage having a positive relationship, and this is definitely one of them,” Fox said. “I think a lot of mothers and daughters can relate to the friendship Glinda and Elphaba have because all mothers and daughters fight, and they all have differences. But there is always this underlying sense of love that you have for each other, and I think our show expresses that beautifully.”

The reasons for Wicked’s enduring appeal have been well documented. It starts with its roots in one of the most beloved films of all time.

“There’s just something about Wicked,” said St. Louis. “It’s just such a great story. The music is so great. People really fall in love with the characters. It’s got just such a great message. There’s the spectacle, too: The costumes and the set.”

But the biggest reason for its longevity might be that it’s not just a story for mothers and daughters.

“It speaks to all ranges of people,” Fox said.

Added St. Louis: “We see men; we see entire families; we see grandparents; we see young teenage boys.”

And with Father’s Day coming up while Wicked is in Denver (June 21), the co-stars were asked what dads who bring their daughters to the show tell them.

“I think a lot of fathers really want a positive message to send to their daughters about being a strong woman growing up in the world,” Fox said. “That’s a wonderful lesson that a father can give to his daughter. Everyone can relate to something in the show.” 

Wicked Quote Carrie St. LouisWicked tells the untold story of what happened long before Dorothy dropped into the land of Oz. It follows the rocky road to friendship between two iconic young women: One who is smart, fiery, misunderstood – and born with emerald-green skin. And the other who is beautiful, ambitious and, yes, popular. Wicked challenges your assumptions about who these women are – and how they came to be known as the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good.

“Because of The Wizard of Oz, you think Glinda is the good witch and Elphaba is the bad witch, and that’s just the way it is,” St. Louis said. “But through the course of the show, you find out that being pretty or popular does not necessarily make you a good person or a bad person. It questions those stereotypes and questions a lot of the issues that girls deal with growing up. So I think it does send a very powerful message.”  

More from our interview

When speaking to Fox and St. Louis at the same time, one must be prepared: “There will be a lot of giggling,” warned St. Louis.

And there was a lot of giggling. Here are more excerpts from our conversation about Wicked:

John Moore: It seems to me that anyone who, like me, strives to better understand women, can benefit from seeing Wicked.

Alyssa Fox (laughing): Yes, it is definitely a glimpse into the complicated lives of women.

Carrie St. Louis: Next we will be doing Side Show! (That’s a Broadway musical about conjoined twins.)

John Moore: It’s obvious from the laughter that you guys already have established a special bond. Does the show naturally lend itself to that kind of a friendship off the stage?

Alyssa Fox: We took to each other pretty quickly.

Carrie St. Louis: We are so much like our characters. We are pretty much Glinda and Elphaba in real life, which is very funny when we are just doing normal things like going to the grocery store. When you spend that much time with someone on stage, and especially on the road, you form a special relationship. So I am very lucky to have her with me on the stage.

John Moore: How long have you been performing these roles together now?

Alyssa Fox: We have been doing it full-time together since the end of January.

John Moore: Do you still get excited to do the show every night?

Carrie St. Louis: I still get goosebumps whenever Elphaba flies through the air, and I have the best seats in the house to watch her do it.

Alyssa Fox: Awwww…

John Moore: I know you both have played your roles opposite other actors. Is it hard when you hit the sweet spot with one actor to start over with someone else who might have their own ideas about the characters?

Alyssa Fox: I think you get a different story when there is someone else there, because that person puts their own personality into it. And that does change it a little bit.

Carrie St. Louis: But that’s also what keeps it interesting.

Alyssa Fox quote Alyssa Fox: Yes. When you see an understudy, it is going to be really amazing in a different way.

Carrie: I couldn’t even name how many Glindas there have been. But the thing I learned is that you just have to play yourself, in a way, and bring elements of yourself to the character.

Alyssa Fox: Exactly.

Carrie St. Louis: But it definitely has been great that we’re contracted together, because we really get to explore things on more than just a surface level. It becomes a little bit deeper over time. There are a lot of moments we have found and invested in that I really only share with Alyssa on stage. So, yes, it becomes more special the more you do it with the other person.

Alyssa Fox: And I think we grow more and more all the time traveling through each of these cities. We grow together as performers and as friends.

John Moore: What are your thoughts on coming to Denver?

Carrie St. Louis: This is actually my first time coming to Denver. But I am very excited because I have a lot of friends visiting. All my friends wanted to come when we are in Denver.

Alyssa Fox: I have a lot of friends visiting as well. I think Denver must be a popular city for friends to meet up in. 

John Moore: What do you attribute the staying power of the show to?

Carrie St. Louis: I think a lot of it, honestly, is that Wicked is never frozen, which I don’t think a lot of people know. The creative team is constantly making changes and adding things. We just recently added flying, for example, to a scene that didn’t have flying before. We changed the choreography in “One Short Day” a little bit. So they are always tweaking and working on it. The creatives come out on the road with us every month or two to work with us and fine-tune the show.

Alyssa Fox: They make sure everything is in tip-top shape. The lighting is right; the costumes are right.

Carrie St. Louis: Everyone is 100 percent committed to keeping Wicked as great as it can be, and as great as it should be. That has contributed a lot to the success of the show. You are never going to get a B-show. The creatives are always going to make sure of that.

Alyssa: Right.

John Moore: There really are no signs of this ever slowing down, are there?

Carrie St. Louis: Not at all. I always joke that next time I come back, I am going to play Madame Morrible.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

About Alyssa Fox:
Alyssa is a Dallas native who sang her first solo in church at age 4. She began her Wicked journey in San Francisco as the Elphaba understudy and continued on tour as the Elphaba standby. Favorite shows include: Who’s Your Baghdaddy?, Rocky Horror, Little Women and numerous concert performances. Twitter: @alyssafox. Instagram:  @allyfox
About Carrie St. Louis:
Carrie was in the original Las Vegas company of Rock of Ages as Sherrie, and later appeared on Broadway in the same role. Regional: Justin Love (Amanda Bell – world premiere), The Fix (Deborah) Carrie is a graduate of USC’s Thornton School of Music. Instagram and Twitter: @carriestlouis

Announcing the daily Wicked lottery:
A day-of-performance lottery will be held for a limited number of orchestra seats throughout the Denver run of Wicked. Two and one-half hours prior to each performance, people who present themselves at the Buell Theatre box office will have their names placed in a lottery drum; 30 minutes later, names will be drawn for a limited number of orchestra seats at $25 each, cash only.  This lottery is available only in-person at the box office, with a limit of two tickets per person.  Lottery participants must have a valid photo ID when submitting their entry form and, if chosen, when purchasing tickets.

June 3-July 5
Buell Theatre
Tickets: 303-893-4100, 800-641-1222 or  BUY ONLINE
Accessibility performance: 2 p.m., June 27

Our recent NewsCenter coverage of Wicked:
Wicked a show for the green girl in all of us
Wicked has bonded mothers and daughters for a decade in Denver

Photos by Joan Marcus.