By Richard Schultz, August 2015 Issue.
The long-awaited and critically acclaimed Wicked returns to Gammage for an extended run, Aug. 26 through Oct. 4
Broadway’s biggest blockbuster, featuring a book written for the stage by Winnie Holzman and music and lyrics from award-winning Stephen Schwartz, continues to break box office records.
Long before that girl from Kansas arrives in Munchkinland, two girls met in the land of Oz: Elphaba, born with emerald green skin, is smart, fiery and misunderstood, while Glinda is beautiful, ambitious and very popular. How these two grow to become the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch is the tale that serves as a prequel to L. Frank Baum’s legendary The Wizard of Oz.
A Witch of All Trades
Castmember Ryan Jackson, 34, has been with the tour since 2009 and knows the show inside and out since he’s a swing member of the ensemble, ready at a moment’s notice to play any one of nine roles.
“Wicked is incredible,” he said. “It’s about looking things a different way. For many in the audience, it’s a great chance to see it again and discover something new.”
Wicked is Jackson’s fourth national tour, following Cats, West Side Story and Dr. Dolittle. But, his career began long ago while he was growing up in Long Island, N.Y., as part of a military family.
“My father encouraged me to try everything, but his one rule was to finish the season,” he said. “So, I tried baseball, track and, finally, dance. Dance is my first love.”
Jackson went on to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Marymount Manhattan College and trained with the Joffrey Ballet and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive.
Today, Jackson is a free-spirited, triple-threat performer who can act, sing and dance. Recognizing that each performer is their own product, he hopes to own a dance studio someday.
“As a performing artist, you want to be happy, employed and challenged by the work. It’s great to invest your talents in a show like Wicked,” he said. “In return, you get this incredible connection with the audience. When I leave the theatre, there are always fans and families at the stage door. It’s so wonderful to hear how much the show means to them.”
Despite his robust and eclectic resume, Jackson said he was surprised to discover that he enjoys the opportunity to focus on a single show for an extended period of time.
“I previously couldn’t see myself doing a show for a long time. Yet, [the Wicked] cast is incredible,” he said. “As a gypsy in the theatre, you always like change. In this show, I partner with different gals. Sometimes with a heavy singing focus and other times with a dance focus.”
The challenge of performing a variety of roles is a good one for Jackson.
“So many of the parts speak to me,” he said. “We have several angry mob scenes which I find cathartic. Depends on the day, some days you just need that emotional release.”
Other roles, such as the infamous flying monkeys, are more physically demanding.
“Being a monkey is very vigorous. You get to jump and fly,” he said with a bit of a chuckle. “It’s great to tell people you are a flying monkey.”
Additionally, touring with Wicked means being part of a family.
“You are with friends and family,” Jackson said. “Together, we are telling this very special story. Each venue, and its stage, impacts the performance and keeps it fresh. Sure, we have blunders and dropped lines which keeps it interesting.”
A Wicked Love Story
For Jackson, being a part of Wicked has had an additional benefit; he met his partner, Justin, a dancer who has been with the tour since 2010.
“We love to see the country together. We plan day trips, which is one of the benefits of being on the national tour, Jackson said. “Between performances in El Paso and Denver, we went to Great Sand Dunes National Park and made a stop in Roswell. Our day trips are fun and silly. We have our own car, which allows us the luxury to explore new places.”
While touring, the couple also works with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, one of the nation’s leading industry-based HIV/AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations which funds the social service programs of The Actors Fund and award grants to AIDS and family service organizations in all 50 states.
Together, the couple has arranged cabarets to benefit local charities.
“It’s great to give back,” Jackson said.
For more information, follow @WICKED_Musical on Twitter, “Like” at facebook.com/Wickedthemusical or visit wickedthemusical.com.
Aug. 26-Oct. 4
1200 S. Forest Ave., Tempe
Tickets: $30-$175 | 480-965-3434 | asugammage.com