This month, "Wicked" makes its fourth return to Chicago for a seven-week run at the Oriental Theatre.
The 2003 musical blockbuster, a revisionist riff on "The Wizard of Oz," still regularly grosses more than $1 million a week on Broadway. And the longevity means that some who obsessed over "Wicked" as kids are now starring in it.
One of those actresses is Ginna Claire Mason ("Newsies," "Flashdance"). She boasts that at the age of 13, she saw the original Broadway cast with stars Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth and Joel Grey.
"It's a beautiful story of friendship," said Mason, highlighting the popular score by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman's script touching on girlhood rivalries. "I feel honored to be part of the show."
The third time that Mason saw "Wicked" was in 2005 while visiting relatives in Oak Park and River Forest. Mason remembers seeing "Saturday Night Live" alumna Ana Gasteyer star as the "wicked witch" Elphaba at the Oriental Theatre near the start of the musical's amazing 3˝-year Chicago run.
"It's a dream come true, for sure," said Mason about starring in "Wicked" at the Oriental. "It feels very full-circle to come back and perform it now in Chicago."
Through the years, the major star of "Wicked" has largely been the musical itself. Nonetheless, luminaries from the worlds of film, TV and theater have been lured into becoming "Wicked," too.
Two-time Tony Award-winner Judy Kaye ("The Phantom of the Opera," "Nice Work if You Can Get It") slathers on the lavender makeup again as Madame Morrible on tour, while Tony nominee Robin De Jesús ("La Cage aux Folles," "Camp") gets to go back to Boq, the munchkin enamored of the superficial Glinda.
"'Wicked' is an embarrassment of riches," said De Jesús.
"Everything is really great work because ('Wicked' producers) are not afraid to shell the money out," he added. "And that's why they're able to get talent like Tony nominee Tom McGowan as The Wizard."
The well-documented popularity of "Wicked" with teenage girls has caused some to pooh-pooh the musical. But De Jesús points out that Gregory Maguire's original 1995 novel "Wicked" can be read as a "metaphor for the Holocaust." That's because Oz's minority "Animal" population is demonized by The Wizard and their ranks are rounded up and silenced.
"In this current political climate, I feel like it's not just our show, but a lot of shows take on new meaning and themes that didn't have as much weight before," said De Jesús, who is both Latino and openly gay. "It's interesting to see how the power of words and how if you say things differently, or say things enough, people will believe them and make them facts. It's very scary."
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Location: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (also Dec. 10); 2 p.m. Wednesday and Sunday (also Dec. 7 and 29; no matinee Dec. 6); 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; Dec. 6 through Jan. 21