Agnes Emerald

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Agnes Emerald

Hit musical 'Wicked' casts blacks in roles not defined by race

In the Land of Oz, it doesn't matter if you are Black or White.

All that matters is what's inside of you, your true character, your belief in yourself.

That message has made the Broadway musical Wicked, the productions in Chicago and Los Angeles and the national touring company of the musical Wicked, huge box-office smashes.

And what's more appealing to theatergoers is the actors in principal roles were cast based on their talent and not their race.

Wicked producer David Stone told JET about the musical's color-blind casting: "Wicked has always believed in race-blind casting. Since Wicked is about looking beyond initial appearances and the color of someone's skin, we've always aimed to cast actors of various ethnic backgrounds."

Wicked, inspired by the classic book and movie The Wizard of Oz and based on the Wicked novel by Gregory Maguire, tells what happened long before Dorothy drops into the Land of Oz. It tells the story of two girls--one born with emerald-green skin who is smart, fiery and misunderstood. The other girl is beautiful, ambitious and very popular. Wicked reveals how these once best friends became enemies and the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda, the Good Witch.

In Broadway's Wicked, Ben Vereen has played the Wizard. Taye Diggs has played the handsome prince Fiyero, who the two witches fight over. Two Black actresses--Saycon Sengbloh and Brandi Chavonne Massey--also have understudied the role of the witch Elphaba on Broadway.

In the Chicago production of Wicked, actor Derrick Williams takes on the role of the prince Fiyero, K. Todd Freeman plays Dr. Dillamond, the schoolteacher, and Dan'yelle Williamson is in the ensemble and an understudy for the witch Elphaba.

In the Los Angeles production, Black actresses Celisse Henderson and Dioni Michelle Collins have played the key role of Madame Morrible, the head of Shiz University in the Land of Oz.

Williams, who was in the original Broadway production of Wicked and played the understudy role of the prince before coming to the Chicago company, told JET: "I never thought ! would have a chance to do something like this. They always say, 'all ethnicities and everyone is welcomed to audition.' And then it ends up being the same old thing: they cast the same person, a White person."

He points out, "But with Wicked they really meant it and that's refreshing. It's what this show is all about. Don't judge a book by its cover; things aren't always what they seem to be. They have had an African-American woman playing the green girl, Elphaba. There's really no reason that a Black person should not play these roles in Wicked."

 

Actor Freeman observes: "I am pleased to see that each company of Wicked has a different ratio of Black and White. Nothing is set in stone, 'this character is White, and this character must be Black.'"

He notes the strong appeal of Wicked. "Wicked is part of our American culture. America loves The Wizard of Oz; that's the reason it has lasted so long. Wicked is about the underdog, someone who is ostracized because of his or her sex or skin color. A major message in this play is looking past the external and looking into who a person really is inside and realizing that's really the most important thing about a person."

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