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WICKED’s Rules of the Road
For the 75-member touring company of WICKED, Charlotte is home for the next few weeks. They’re happy to be here – and invite you back to the theater.by Page Leggett on September 21, 2021
Steve Quinn, company manager for WICKED (at Ovens Auditorium through Oct. 3, thanks to Blumenthal Performing Arts), has responsibility for 16 dogs and two ferrets* … oh, and 75 traveling cast and crew members, including wardrobe, makeup, stage managers, physical therapists and merchandise salespeople that come with them. *He’s not really in charge of the pets that cast members bring on the road. But they add to the craziness.
You always hear how hard life on the road is, but Quinn loves it. He’s been with WICKED for 16 years and is never in the same place longer than a few weeks. There are just four other members of the traveling family who’ve been with the show that long.
After a COVID-forced break, he’s happy to be back doing what he loves.
“I think the company is in great shape now,” he said. “[It’s] nice to have our creative staff come back and … put the love and care and everything back into it.”
We caught up with Quinn to ask about life on the road, the Wicked Witch and what he’s doing in his spare time in Charlotte.
Ovens Auditorium is getting the very best of WICKED
Before hitting the road, Quinn lived and worked in New York. That sounds like the pinnacle of a theater career, but Quinn said he’s got the job he wants.
“To be able to bring Broadway to the country is something pretty special,” he said. “I will say that with the full Broadway production out on the road, we don’t spare any expense. The show you’re seeing here in Charlotte is just as good as what you would see in New York, and I’m very proud of that.”
Quinn helps newbies who join the tour get acclimated. “We have a little booklet called The Rules of the Road, which gives a synopsis of what to expect when traveling, how to deal with housing and travel,” he said.
“We have an internal website that the company uses so that they can access gyms and doctors and those types of things when we’re on the road. My job is to make them feel comfortable traveling, so that all they have to really worry about is their job.” [Note to self: I need a Steve Quinn in my life.]
Quinn is in touch with venues before the crew arrives to get a lay of the land. “The Blumenthal Center has such a great staff; they send us all the information they have, so we can contact those places and let them know we’re coming to town,” he said.
“They’re prepared, and they’re ready. They’re no strangers to big Broadway shows, which is great.”
At home in Charlotte
The cast and crew do more than entertain us while they’re here. They also contribute to the economy. They eat out, hike, take up temporary residence.
“I get feedback all the time from locals that the cast and the crew are very friendly and very accommodating and they have a good time with the locals, and those locals are our source for information in terms of where to eat, where to go, things to experience,” Quinn said. “I can only provide so much. I’ve traveled many years, but a local will let you know about a brand-new restaurant or a new park and all sorts of things that we find very valuable.”
“I am no stranger to Charlotte and I consider myself a foodie,” Quinn said. “I have my favorite restaurants where I like to eat. I know they opened a Snooze here, which I just love. I also love Mimosa Grill and several restaurants in SouthPark … Bricktop’s is a favorite.”
“There’s also lots of new parks that have opened,” he continued. “I’ve been going up to Clark’s Creek Community Park on Hucks Rd. I’ve joined the craze and started playing pickleball. We’re within striking distance of the mountains so it’s easy to go to Asheville on a day off. I know some of the cast did that and just explored this beautiful area.”
The greening of Talia Suskauer
Yes, Elphaba’s makeup takes longer than everybody else’s – but not as long as I would’ve guessed. Actress Talia Suskauer can get all greened up in 25 minutes. “She’s constantly touched up throughout the show,” Quinn said.
Take note when you see the show: Elphaba’s makeup is different in Act II. “In the first act, she’s a college student. In the second act, there’s a passage of time and she’s a little more mature, so the makeup is actually more contoured and a little more glamorous.”
If you don’t know anything about the show, you may be surprised at the origin story of the Wicked Witch of the West.
“If you walk in and have a concept of who the Wicked Witch is, but you see a young woman come onto the stage, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, wanting to experience life, and immediately she’s taken down by the color of her skin – or just for being different – you can relate,” Quinn said.
“We’ve all been there. We’ve all been told ‘we’re not that girl’ – not that person. It’s just not easy growing up green. And I think you root for her. You think: Wait a minute. They didn’t make her ugly. Elphaba is beautiful.”
The show must go on … and it does
In theater, understudies have to be ready to fill in at a moment’s notice. “Certainly, it happens … sometimes at a moment’s notice,” Quinn said.
“It will even happen during the show. We never want anyone to get sick, but there have been times where the Elphaba thinks she can do the show, and in the middle of The Wizard and I, she realizes she can’t.”
“The nice thing about working with the professionals I work with is that we can hear that before she can hear that,” he continued. “We can sense that there’s something not right vocally, and she can give a signal letting us know that she probably can’t continue. We can get an understudy or standby ready in about seven minutes.”
“You never want this to happen, but when it does, the team is ready. And no [actor] wants to miss a show, but, you know, especially these two leads – both of them are so challenged to do eight shows a week, and what they do is akin to what Olympic athletes do.”
“Of course, there’s disappointment when you see that there’s an understudy listed in the program, but I think by the time they sing that first note, you realize it’s OK,” Quinn added. “Allison Bailey (who plays Glinda) started off in the WICKED ensemble. She left for a couple of years before coming back and taking on one of the lead roles. I tell people all the time: ‘Adam Lambert started in the ensemble in the first national tour of WICKED and covered Fiyero, and now he’s Adam Lambert.’”
Just as The Wizard of Oz is a timeless classic, so is the tale of what happened in Oz before Dorothy got there. (And that’s just what WICKED is.) “Joe Mantello, our director, said, ‘When you look at our show, it’s like you’re looking at The Wizard of Oz, but the camera has panned slightly to the left,’” Quinn said. “We kind of show you a little bit of what you didn’t see when you watched The Wizard of Oz.”)
“In Allison’s (Glinda) last speech, she talks about how we’ve been through a trying time. And there’ll be other trying times. People ask if they rewrote the book based on COVID, and no – they didn’t. It’s very prescient; it’s very real. It’s a brilliantly crafted story.”
Follow the yellow brick road
Quinn said Charlotte audiences are proving that everyone is ready to come back to the theater.
“I can’t say this enough,” he said. “I think that people really want to come back to the theater, and we’re providing that. People are safe here; everyone is wearing a mask. We’re wearing masks backstage. Unless on stage performing, we are all wearing masks, so we are keeping everyone as safe as we can. We need theater right now.”
It may be the umpteenth performance for Quinn, but he never forgets that – out in the audience – there’s someone who’s seeing musical theater for the first time.
“Someone in the audience is seeing their very first Broadway show, and someone in the audience is seeing their last Broadway show,” he said. “And we owe it to them to give them a great experience. WICKED touches on many levels of love – friendship, companionship. There’s comedy in it. And of course, the music is spectacular.”
He’s happy to hear the applause again, he said. “People want to come back to the theater,” he said. “We’re essential. I know that for 16 months we were told we weren’t, but boy, we need this right now.”
You look good in green.
WICKED runs every day of the week but Monday through Oct. 3. There’s a matinee performance on weekend afternoons. Tickets are available through Carolinatix.org and by calling 704.372.1000.