'Wicked' bonds mothers and daughters over a decade in Denver

Erin Ostrin and her daughter, Abby, are shown in 2005 and 2015. They have seen 'Wicked' together every time it has played Denver. Erin Begeman and her daughter, Abby, are shown in 2005 and 2015. They have seen ‘Wicked’ together every time it has played Denver.

When Erin Begeman and Carolyn Toth Bartels took their young daughters to see the hit Broadway musical Wicked during its first visit to Denver back in 2005, little did they know the national touring production would become like a theatrical growth chart of their mother-daughter relationships over the next decade.

Begeman and Bartels are among a handful of moms who will be taking their daughters to Wicked for a fifth time when the musical returns to Denver from June 3 through July 5. Denver will become the first city in the country to host the beloved Stephen Schwartz prequel to The Wizard of Oz five times.

And these moms, and their daughters, have seen them all.

Abby Begeman was a second-grader in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 2005. Now she is a 17-year-old senior at Cheyenne East High School. She is on the debate team and is the clarinet section leader for her school’s marching band. Hannah Bartels was a self-described insecure fifth-grader in 2005. She’s now a 20-year-old psychology major at Metropolitan State University of Denver. And she is still determined to one day play Elphaba on stage.

Both young women found personal strength – and maternal bonding – watching the story of how the ostracized young girl of color (green) became the Wicked Witch of the West the world so universally loathes in The Wizard of Oz. The cackling dog-snatcher with the flying monkeys makes for an easy common enemy. But Wicked asks us to consider that she may be an enemy of our own making. Young Elphaba is labeled evil so often, she finally succumbs and simply becomes exactly what people expect her to be. Wicked audiences see the injustices done to her, and come to root for her.

Both moms say they knew Wicked would become a lifelong mother-daughter ritual after seeing it for the first time in 2005.

“I think it’s because the themes of Wicked grow along with you,” said Carolyn Bartels, of Wheat Ridge. “I know that Wicked is one of the reasons Hannah is studying psychology at Metro State. She has always been fascinated by this idea that wickedness is not something that you are born with – that it can be thrust upon you.”

Both moms say Wicked has enhanced their relationships with their daughters over the past decade.

“Each time we go, we make a night of it,” Erin Begeman said. “It’s time just for her and I to spend together. And this year will be extra special since I know Abby is heading to college after we see Wicked.”

Carolyn Bartels says she and daughter Hannah have always been very close. “But Wicked is one of the brightest spots in our relationship,” she said. ”It is the perfect mother-daughter outing.”

But she admits, over the passage of coming time, Carolyn expects one essential part of the ritual to change.

“If it ever comes to Denver, we will go, absolutely. But at some point, Hannah is going to start paying for the tickets,” she said with a laugh.

We asked our two moms and daughters, who have not met, to talk about their common experiences watching Wicked in Denver in 2005, ’07, ’09 and ’12.

Carolyn Toth Bartels and her daughter, Hannah, received a framed photo from Victoria Matlock after writing the 'Wicked' actor in 2007.

Carolyn Toth Bartels and her daughter, Hannah, received a framed photo from Victoria Matlock after writing the ‘Wicked’ actor in 2007.

SETTING THE STAGE: WICKED in 2005:

The first time Wicked played Denver in September 2005, it sold 69,000 tickets, grossing $3.5 million in a three-week run that could have easily sold out for a run twice as long. In a precedent-setting move, tickets for a 2007 run were then immediately put on sale – 20 months in advance – and most of the 90,000 available seats went fast.

Neither Erin nor Abby Begeman had seen a Broadway musical before Wicked in 2005. Not so for Carolyn Bartels, a former concierge at the Hotel Teatro. She grew up in a musical theatre environment, and she took Hannah to the Buell Theatre for the first time to see Beauty and the Beast – when she was just 2.

Wicked QuoteErin Begeman had a friend in Wyoming who had seen Wicked in Chicago. She told Erin she loved it so much, she she would drive the seven hours to Denver just to see it again. Erin was convinced.

“I grew up loving The Wizard of Oz – with the exception of those freaky flying monkeys,” she said.

And what did they think of the show?

“From beginning to end, Abby and I were mesmerized by the storyline, music, actors and costumes. We just loved it all,” Erin Begeman said. “While walking out after the show, Abby and I agreed we needed the soundtrack so we could learn every song to sing along the next time we saw it.”

Carolyn Bartels, now the development director for the Aurora Cultural Arts District, was blown away. “I knew right then Wicked was going to become our mother-daughter ritual,” she said. “It was one of the most phenomenal theatrical concepts I had ever seen. And seeing it that first time led to my daughter reading the (Gregory Maguire) source books in middle school.”

A young Hannah Bartels found her first viewing of Wicked production to be amazing. “I was in middle school, and despite the insecurities that come with that difficult time, Elphaba was my inspiration to be myself,” Hannah said. “There was great comfort with that, and I carried it with me from the theater into my life every time we saw it.”

After that first Wicked, Erin and Abby Begeman immediately agreed they would see it again, whenever that was. “And in the meantime, we started enjoying other shows that came to Denver like The Little Mermaid and My Fair Lady,” said Erin, a political consultant. “I recognized that these were special times, and that they were precious. Memories were being made that we could both relive and always reminisce about.”

ON SEEING WICKED TOGETHER IN 2007:

The second time around, Denver audiences saw University of Northern Colorado graduate Victoria Matlock play Elphaba. A few days after the performance, Carolyn Bartels wrote Matlock a letter telling her of Hannah’s passion for the musical. Matlock sent back a framed photo of Elphaba on her broomstick with the message: “Hannah. Keep dancing through life! Love, Victoria.” 

“When mom surprised me that framed photo, I was in shock,” Hannah said. “It is still on our wall.” 

ON THE CONTINUING RELEVANCE OF THE RITUAL:

Hannah Bartels said the passing of years has brought different revelations with each new Wicked viewing, both for her mother and herself. “It’s always relatable to what one or both of us are maybe going through or dealing with,” she said. “And we always laugh – a lot.”

As she has grown older and is now off living on her own at college, she finds it a meaningful tradition to keep up with her mother. 

“And the story continues to give me faith in humanity and the belief that no one is truly born wicked,” she said.

Abby Begeman now thinks of Wicked as something “that’s just for my mother and me,” she said. “It’s our girls’ night out. That little extra time together is a special thing I look forward to.  We get dressed up and go out for dinner at a fun restaurant in Denver.”

Over the years, Erin says Wicked has helped her to communicate with Abby during hard times.

“When I hear Abby play a song like ‘Defying Gravity’ or ‘For Good,’ I know it’s her way of telling me, ‘I’ve got something on my mind. Please ask me about it,’ ” Erin said. “Parents can always find a way – even if it seems small or trivial – to connect with their kids. Wicked – and a love for theater – were two of ours.”

Wicked
June 3 through July 5
Buell Theatre
Accessibility performance: 2 p.m., June 27
Tickets: Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
800-641-1222 | Groups (10+): 303-446-4829

 

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