On October 30, 2003, the world became a little more Wicked. The musical, originally led by Idina Menzel as Elphaba and Kirstin Chenoweth as Glinda, became an instant classic. Fans flocked to the Gershwin Theatre to see the “untold story of the witches of Oz,” and the show went on to win three Tony Awards, including a Best Actress nod for Menzel. With a book by Winnie Holzman and music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, the musical has gone on to be the fourth longest-running show on Broadway, now celebrating its 20th year. It still sells out nightly.
For many theater kids, the soundtrack became a quintessential record. Even outside the New York bubble, Wicked T-shirts started popping up, and when the show began to tour, Wicked-mania only spread further through the world.Two particular songs exploded and became almost pop culture manifestos. “Popular,” where Glinda teaches Elphaba how to fit in, was a flirty, flouncy favorite; and Elphaba’s bold “Defying Gravity” became a rallying cry for the underdog.
Below, past and present Glindas and Elphabas share what these songs mean to them, and in exclusive videos to ELLE.com, many come together to sing the two hit tracks.
Performed below by Jackie Burns, Alyssa Fox, Jenny DiNoia, and Mary Kate Morrissey:
Shoshana Bean, Elphaba 2005-2006: “‘Defying Gravity’ represents a lot of things to me. It will first and foremost forever and always be the anthem for the underdog. And as such every time I sing it, I feel empowered, more courageous, and proud. It also will always be a snapshot of a moment of time in my life. I lived inside of that song for the two years I worked on Wicked. It will always be a part of me, always be in my DNA, always a part of my identity.”
Bean is preparing to star in Alicia Keys and Kristoffer Diaz’s new musical, Hell’s Kitchen at the Public Theater opening October 24.
Jackie Burns, Elphaba 2011-2013 and 2017-2018: “It is just about as iconic as you can get. That song, I don’t think there’s any person who loves musical theater that doesn’t relate to that song and love it. It’s just such an anthem of owning your own power and owning whatever that is for you. It’s different. For Elphaba, it’s something very specific for her in the show. But why it’s such a big hit and resonates with everyone is because it’s transferable to anybody at whatever point of their life they’re in. Where you take a moment and you finally say, ‘You know what? No. This is me. This is what I believe, and this is what I’m going to stick to.’ To own your power in that badass way…It’s just such an empowering song. You cannot not sing that song, and you cannot hear that song without feeling empowered.”
Burns is currently starring as Céline Dion in Titaníque at the Daryl Roth Theatre.
Alyssa Fox, Elphaba 2023-present, Elphaba standby 2016-2022: “It means to defy all the expectations you have for yourself, as well as the expectations others place upon you. I finally got to play the role after 13 years of working towards it. I will never forget how special it was to bow in curtain call that night.”
Fox is Wicked’s current Elphaba, playing at the Gershwin Theatre.
Mandy Gonzalez, Elphaba 2010-2011: “My journey with Wicked started a little bit before [playing Elphaba] because I was actually hired to be part of the ensemble for the first reading. I remember being in the ensemble with Christian Borle and Celia Keenan-Bolger. We were all just starting in New York. I remember meeting Alex Lacamoire, who I would later work with on In The Heights and Hamilton. But, I remember hearing the music, hearing Idina sing ‘Defying Gravity’ for the first time, and just thinking, ‘What is this?’ Then being totally floored by it. So, then I did other Broadway shows after that, and then when Wicked opened, I went and saw it, and I bought tickets for my parents. I was in another show at the time, and I was just like, ‘Oh my God, look at Idina. She did it.’
“Then when I was in In The Heights on Broadway, I got the call that they wanted to bring me in to play Elphaba in Wicked. I remember everything had to be very secret. At that time, the company of In The Heights were my family and I loved that job, but I was ready to take on something new, like Wicked.
“I remember my last day in In The Heights, Lin-Manuel [Miranda] coming on in a witches hat and a green t-shirt. Alex Lacamoire conducted part of the score for Wicked. They were wishing me well on my next journey, and I felt like so much support from that company.
“When I did ‘Defying Gravity’ for the first time on a Broadway stage, because my entire Heights family was there. Lin was in the audience with his entire family, Alex Lacamoire, Andrea Burns, Karen Olivo, everybody was there to celebrate. At the same time, I felt like it was that moment where I felt like, ‘Ah, I did it.’ I just felt very proud in that moment, everything that I had dreamed of and worked towards, and here I was flying on Broadway.”
Gonzalez recently went on a concert tour and has been working on multiple upcoming projects following a run as Angelica Schuyler in Broadway’s Hamilton.
Performed below by Alli Mauzey, McKenzie Kurtz, Kara Lindsay, and Amanda Jane Cooper:
Alli Mauzey, Glinda 2012-2013: “Wicked feels like a home base to me, because I’ve done it on and off. If I had a home base on Broadway, it would be Glinda’s dressing room. I miss having that in a way. The show as a whole is so special to fans, because on a personal level, the fans relate to the musical. I can come out the stage door and hear many say what the show meant to them. I may hear someone say ‘For Good’ reminds them of their mom and they just cried. I met somebody who said Wicked took them to another place for two hours. It inspired him to create a charity to give people the opportunity to go to theater. The response I get from fans isn’t the same from other shows I’ve done. ‘Popular’ is so fun and part of that. What I love about it is that everyone can sing it backwards and forwards, grown men in their ’70s and kids. Everyone still wants to go ‘toss, toss’ with me. I haven’t done this show in a while, but it’s so fun. Steven Schwartz wrote a perfect song, and Kristin Chenoweth was so hilarious and laid the groundwork. To step into her shoes is an honor, and the audience is along for a ride. They’re excited to see what the current Glinda is going to do. It keeps audiences coming back.”
Mauzey currently stars as Pattie Levaco in Kimberly Akimbo at the Booth Theatre.
Brittney Johnson, Glinda 2022-2023: “I’d venture to say ‘Popular’ is one of the most iconic songs in the musical theatre songbook today. I knew ‘Popular’ before I even knew about Wicked. For me, performing ‘Popular’ is the epitome of feeling freedom, fun, and truth onstage. There is no set choreography for Glinda in ‘Popular,’ so you truly are free to find the character in each moment and I performed it slightly differently each night. Having the freedom to embody a character authentically each night also forces vulnerability, and vulnerability, in my opinion, is the most important quality in a great actor. It is especially true with comedy. An audience won’t find anything you do funny unless you commit to the honesty of that moment. And that is what is fun and exhilarating for me.”
Johnson is preparing for her solo concert at 54 Below titled From the Heart on February 9 and 10, 2024. She also recently gave birth to a baby boy.
McKenzie Kurtz, Glinda 2023-present: “I grew up listening to this show, and specifically the song ‘Popular,’ acting it out in my room at the age of eight and nine years old. I have memories of acting this out for my parents, putting on performances of it. So, I’ve been doing this song for years. It definitely holds a special place in my heart.
“I also was thinking about it and I think a lot of times the character of Glinda can kind of get written off as this shallow sort of self-serving. She’s just there to be the comic relief and wear the sparkly dresses. But at her core, especially during this song, all she really, really wants is to help Elphaba, genuinely. She wants to help Elphaba, and it gets her so excited that she’s going to take on Elphaba as this new project and help her become popular. And it definitely is a silly, fun number to perform, but at the end of the day, that’s why the number exists, and it’s the start of this beautiful friendship that kind of blossoms between the two of them.”
Kurtz is Wicked’s current Glinda, playing at the Gershwin Theatre.
Wicked is celebrating 20 years at the Gershwin Theatre. Tickets can be purchased here.
Samuel is the Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief at ELLE Magazine. His interests include music, theater, books, video games, and anything to do with Taylor Swift. He famously broke both his arms at the same time in fourth grade.