From the moment flying monkeys drop on stage to invite the audience into Oz, Wicked captivates everyone watching it. Atlanta theater-goers will once again be enthralled by the musical when it plays the Fox Theatre for the third time starting September 14. More than just a green witch, the musical presents engaging, current themes we all wrestle with each day. Add in the dazzling choreography and staging, who can help but be blown away? Like many people who see Wicked for the first time, Mark Jacoby, who stars as the Wonderful Wizard of Oz on the tour, has been awed by the spectacle onstage.
“It’s hard not to be impressed,” he comments. “It’s impressive, a great piece of entertainment. There’s so much to see. It’s an eyeful – kind of reminded me of Phantom in that it’s a very big technical show with a lavish set design.”
Most would agree with his comparison, but Jacoby speaks with firsthand knowledge because he stared as the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera on Broadway from 1991 to 1993. While many actors would dream of being in two blockbuster musicals, he has been fortunate to be in two of them. “Being a performer and actor isn’t associated with job security. When in a show that runs a long time, it’s a strange feeling for an actor,” he mentions. “When I was in Phantom, I felt a little bit like being retired. The constant hustle to find a job wasn’t in my reality.”
But, it was here in Atlanta where Jacoby had his start as an actor. A graduate of Georgia State University, he earned his Equity card with Theater of the Stars, playing in the ensemble of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in 1970. After spending about five years in Atlanta he moved on to eventually star in a number of Broadway hits such as the 2005 revival of Sweeney Todd and this past holiday’s musical Elf. However, it his stint in 1994’s Show Boat that earned him a 1995 Tony nomination for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical.
Even with all of his accomplishments and accolades, Jacoby’s tenure in Wicked has been a new experience for him. He has only starred in one other tour in 1988, a limited run that lasted six months. “It is a very distinct lifestyle, and I am still acclimating to it,” he says. Being away from home and trying to manage daily affairs is just one of the aspects of touring that makes it difficult. The separation from family and friends is another.
“In a long-running tour, the social connection becomes more important,” he says. “They are really all you have.” He goes on to mention that the cast become a sort of family, and for Wicked, in particular, with two tours and the Broadway production, there is the Wicked family. It is that greater family that has awed him recently. As with other tours, cast members come and go, but with this musical, cast members move from production to production or leave the tour and rejoin later.
One of those Wicked family members, Dee Roscioli, who plays Elphaba, has played the role in the Broadway, Chicago and San Francisco productions. When she was mentioned as part of the cast, he remarks, “She’s a veteran of the role and she’s remarkable.” Yet, it is not just her talents that have him amazed. Watching all of the other cast members within the entire Wicked family has also impressed him.
“As an older person, I am constantly in awe at how much talent is coming through the pipeline,” he says. “Every time your turn around another excellent singer, excellent dancer, excellent actor. It wasn’t like that when I was younger. The skills were not as honed. It’s impressive to me. “
Starting with the original cast, production crew, writers and musicians, incredible talent thrives in this production. “It’s so beautifully done in every respect. Every part is handled by a top-rate person,” he says. “Highly, highly produced and has very good, almost overwhelming production values.” The set design, the effects, the music, the onstage talent – they all combine to create an incredible journey that taps into our childhood memories.
As mesmerizing as Elphaba soaring above the stage and the giant talking Wizard’s head are, Jacoby feels the real appeal of the musical is the story: a story of two girls who just want to fit in and be liked and the friendship that blossoms between them. The musical also has a magical aspect to it. “It deals with a premise that is mystical and I think that is part of the appeal,” Jacoby mentions. “There is something about the otherworldliness without going into fantasy.”
Young girls, women and even men relate to the story of Elphaba and Glinda, but it is the Wizard that often gets overshadowed. The role is one that Jacoby enjoys playing. “It’s great fun; the Wizard is a classic cameo in a way. His music is completely different than anything else in the show, and I like that,” he mentions. “There’s a song and dance almost in a vaudevillian kind of way.”
In Wicked, we learn more about how the Wizard came to be the man behind the curtain, and he can be seen either as a victim of circumstance or a cruel, manipulative man. For Jacoby, he takes the former view, and in that light the Wizard, who just falls into the role by circumstance, stands as a sort of comparison to Madame Morrible, who is driven by ambition. It’s that unique take that interests Jacoby. “He’s really an ordinary guy, not particularly exceptional; he’s just a guy who has found himself in this situation of being exalted and becomes carried away with it. At heart he is a simple guy,” Jacoby explains.
Plus, for this Broadway veteran, the role offers him something different in that it gives him the chance “to dance a little bit. My career has been mostly singing.” As someone who wasn’t trained to dance, the experience provides a chance for him to expand his own skills. “I enjoy the challenge of it. It is kind of fun,” he comments.
While Wicked is in Atlanta, you can also see Jacoby around town during the show’s dark nights during September and October. He will be singing at Our Wicked, Wicked Ways, an evening of cabaret performances, on September 26. The proceeds of the benefit will go to Joining Hearts and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. In addition, he will be singing at a Braves game.
Presented by Broadway Across America, Wicked flies into Atlanta’s Fox Theatre on September 14 and plays through October 9. For tickets, visit the Fox Theatre box office, all Ticketmaster outlets or online at www.ticketmaster.com. To get more information about Wicked or Broadway Across America, please visit Broadway Across America Atlanta’s website. For more information about the cabaret benefit, please visit www.thebestarts.com/wickedbenefit.
By Kenny Norton