Q&A with the Wizard of Wicked
Veteran stage, TV actor Kreppel takes on iconic role
By Allison Nugentanugent@postandcourier.com | Wednesday, April 11, 2012
What is ‘Wicked’?
The tag line for the show gives a good hint: “So much happened before Dorothy dropped in ...”
Taking the story we all know and love, “Wicked” turns back the clock on “The Wizard of Oz” tale and “uniquely reinvents the world of Oz and the beloved Frank Baum characters,” according to “The Grimmerie: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Hit Broadway Musical.”
The storyline of the show is derived from “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” a novel written by Gregory Maguire.
Maguire, who long had unanswered questions from “The Wizard of Oz,” decided to delve deep into the imaginary land to find the answers: “Are people born Wicked? Or do they have Wickedness thrust upon them?”
“Wicked” revolves a-round two girls, Elphaba and Galinda, who formed an unlikely friendship, and the eventual demise of that friendship as they grow to become the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch, respectively.
The plot takes the audience through the life of Elphaba, from her emerald entrance into the world to her puddled, “Wicked” end, revealing along the way where the infamous Ruby Slippers came from and the origins of the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodsman.
‘The Wizard will see you now!”
Tony Award winner Paul Kreppel, who plays the Wizard in one of two touring productions of “Wicked,” took time out of his extremely busy schedule (they do eight shows a week!) to speak with Charleston Scene from Florida, where they’re currently performing.
Kreppel probably is best-known for his television work on shows such as “It’s a Living” and “That ’70s Show” (he played the dad of Mila Kunis’ character, Jackie).
“Television helped pay the bills. But for most actors, being on stage is really where it’s at,” Kreppel said. “There’s no editing, no stopping, no retakes.”
And that’s where it’s at for Kreppel.
His career is peppered with stage performances, including “Tuscaloosa’s Calling Me ... ,” “Agamemnon,” “Alice in Concert” with Meryl Streep and the New York Shakespeare Festival productions of “The Comedy of Errors.”
And add to that list “Wicked.”
“I was in Stephen Schwartz’s first show, ‘Godspell,’ so it’s fun for me to bookend my carrier, I say bookend by my career’s not over, by being in another one of his shows,” Kreppel said. “He writes songs, music that resonates. It’s a tribute to him.”
Q: How long have you been with the show?
A: I’m one of the new kids. I just joined them in Norfolk (Va.),. I think it’s my fifth week, and I’m loving every minute of it. It’s a fun theatrical event to be a part of. ... I’m blessed to be a part of it.
Q: Had you seen the show before you joined the cast?
A: I saw it I think the first year of its run in New York. I went with my girlfriend and my children. It was wonderful then.
Q: Did you want the role of the Wizard or was there another role you were interested in?
A: I was hoping to be hired for Elphaba, but I’m not right for it. (Laughing) At this point, I can’t imagine doing anything else. ... A lot of my friends had done the role and were asking why I hadn’t done it. The timing came and I contacted my agent. I auditioned and here I am.
Q: What’s your favorite song from the show?
A: I have to say my favorite song is not one of mine. I mean, of course I like my songs. “Wonderful” is a delight. It’s a patter song, a soft-shoe. It’s a wonderful song. But my favorite song is “For Good.” It resonates and is about friendship and people touching you. I can’t hear it without bursting into tears. ... Of course “Defying Gravity.” It raises the hair on my arm. ... I’m not sure I can pick just one.
Q: I know you haven’t been with the show long, but is there a performance that stands out?
A: Our Glinda, she never misses a performance, and she took a vacation, as she has a right to do. Her understudy, two understudies, two young girls, 22 or 23, both went on and I was absolutely blown away at how good they were. ... Seeing them in rehearsal is different. It wasn’t about the performance, it was about the level of talent.
The best performance, experience, as an actor is you remember silly things that go wrong, like forgetting a prop or have a moment of not remembering your next line. That’s the stuff we’re tickled by.
Q: Any behind-the-scenes secrets you can tell us?
A: (Pause) No. (laughs) The costumes in the show are extraordinarily detailed; the closer you are, you can see the richness and color. There are thousands and thousands of dollars in costumes. Before my second entrance, there’s a ballroom scene. There’s probably $100,000 in costumes on stage and it’s 25 seconds long; they’re not seen for the rest of the show. ... But secrets, I can’t tell. I don’t want to ruin the magic.
Q: From when you got the call that you got the part, how long did you have before you were onstage?
A: I had the script and knew it when I showed up. I hadn’t worked with anybody, but I knew my songs, too. I had two weeks before I took the stage; I watched the show every night, did a couple hours of rehearsal. ... They prepared me well. I was ready to go.
Q: The story “The Wizard of Oz” holds a special place in many people’s lives. Does it hold a special place with you?
A: The film itself, absolutely. I used to watch it every year; I watched it over and over with my children. I’d like to see it again; I haven’t seen it in a while. The original book held a place, too. The story touched the core in everyone; the journey, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” ... (In “Wicked”) we’re honoring our memories of the original story, but it really is looking at it, I like the phrase “holographically,” looking at the characters from a different point of view.
Q: Being the Wizard, do fans every ask anything of you?
A: Just an autograph and a picture, that’s the best this Wizard can give you. (Laughing) No one’s ever asked me for a brain.
Q: It seems as though there’s some debate among actors who have performed the role about whether the Wizard is a villain. How do you perceive him?
A: He’s a ventriloquist. They (the people of Oz) needed something to believe in and he floated in, and he said, “I’ll see what I can do.”
I don’t view him as a villain. He’s doing the best he can to make people happy. That kind of pressure puts you in the position of making bad decisions. He’s always out to try to do what he believes is right. ... Abuse of power, how to maintain power, power corrupts, these are undercurrent themes. I don’t think he’s evil; he’s doing the best he can. He’s not a bad man, just not a good Wizard.
Q: Does it ever get monotonous saying the same lines and singing the same songs night after night?
A: It’s (the career) not necessarily for everyone, but my answer is no. I was in “Godspell” for two years. Every performance is different; every audience is different. A good show is exciting; it’s never the same. Every day is a new day. ... When it does, it’s time to move on. An actor is like an athlete, it’s the body and our gift that takes a beating. I did pratfalls in “Godspell” for two years. At 23, it’s not a big deal; at 43, you get up and feel the sting and realize your elbows and knees need a rest (laughing).
Q: Have you ever been to Charleston?
A: No! And I’m so looking forward to it. I have friends who are coming to visit and see the show. ... We have 13 18-wheelers, if I’m not mistaken — it’s like a rock concert — so we need to set down someplace because we can’t break down and set up that fast. I hope I have some time to see some sights.