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for i am a sentimental man

Gene Weygandt as The Wizard ©Joan Marcus
Gene Weygandt as The Wizard ©Joan Marcus

So I heard a rumor my show is closing…about two years ago. It wasn’t true. By a long shot. What a remarkable experience this has been; seeing the Wicked phenomenon from the inside. Oh sure, every actor dreams of being part of “The-Smash-Hit-of-The-Decade!” and working with the likes of Stephen Schwartz and Joe Mantello. That has certainly given me an enormous sense of pride, not to mention dinner rezzys at Petterino’s. But far and away the coolest part of Wicked, for me, has been meeting wickedfans. You probably know there are people who have seen it 40 or 50 times; lots of them. Fans we’ve met at the stage door or in Loop restaurants; or, because I’m a Chicagoan, at The Jewel in the produce aisle. Even while I was on hiatus from the show, hardly a day went by that I wasn’t introduced to someone as “The Wizard,” or someone at my boy’s school would ask me about Wicked. I’d explain how to get tickets and say, “Well, as long as audiences keep coming.” At the after-show audience talk backs while I was working at another theatre, people invariably asked about Wicked. On vacation in Mexico; “…excuse me, but aren’t you that guy from Wicked?” Just amazing. I loved all the dads standing at the stage door behind their daughters, who’d tell me, “This is her fourth time….I play the CD in my car every day.” I remember meeting fans who commuted from Santa Fe or Seattle to see us, turned around, got on the “L” to O’Hare, and flew home.

Like the closing of any show it’s bittersweet. Because Wicked is so big though, there will be a lot more people to miss. Not just our fellow cast members, but the dressers, and crew guys and our wonderful and very funny orchestra, the company managers, stage managers, ushers, all the Broadway In Chicago people, the travelling swings. Six days a week for the better part of three years, they’ve been my companions, my stalwarts, my source of jokes, my inspiration. My friend of thirty years, Rondi Reed, had her Tony Award delivered to The Oriental so we could all see it. She knew we’d want to. We took pictures with Tony. Last Saturday between shows, the orchestra played an informal concert for us. Just twenty or so of the best musicians in the country giving us the gift of their music. Mostly we only hear them play our score. Saturday, they played everything from soup to nuts. Fifteen tunes in all. They opened with The Theme From The Simpsons, played a big-band rockin’ funk composed by our bass player Tom Mendel, an original solo guitar piece written by our associate conductor Rick Snyder, beautiful violin and piano duets, fabulous Heidi Kettenring singing a sweet Jonathan Brooke number with Jeff the guitar player, four pianists on two pianos playing a Joplin rag with a hilarious button, (emphasis on the ‘butt’) the brass section blowing high, high notes, and For All We Knowas their closer with Mark Lekas on cello and Jeremy Kahn’s gorgeous piano accompaniment. Our brilliant conductor, Colin Welford, just thought it would be a nice idea. And so it was. A beautiful gift. A beautiful memory.

As for me, I’ll move on to Don’t Dress For Dinnerup at the Royal George; a theatre I helped to open more than 20 years ago. Oh…Right…along with Eileen LaCario and her husband. So I just assume if we can all manage to hang in a bit, for all we know, we’ll all meet again. I hope, hope you come along, too.

To all my Wickedfans and friends, with love,
Gene Weygandt – that guy in Wicked