Platt first read Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West while he was at Universal. Having sensed right away that there was something huge lurking in Gregory Maguire’s strange blend of folk-tale fantasy, political parable, and pop-culture witch-bonding, he wanted to be the one to bring it to life.
“My heart told me, ‘This is a story that’s going to work on many levels,’” he says. “I thought it was going to be a film first. I requested and was given that project to be the producer and develop some screenplays. But they just weren’t satisfying to me. Something was missing.”
Not long after he moved to Marc Platt Productions, he got a call from Stephen Schwartz, the composer and lyricist. “He said, ‘I know you’ve got the rights to Wicked. Did you ever consider making a musical?’” Platt recalls. “And the moment he said it, the light bulb went off in my head, and I realized that what’s missing is the music. It’s a world that wants to be musicalized. It’s a fantasy.”
Bringing it to the stage proved to be “a really intensely creative and enormously rewarding experience,” he says. In addition to Schwartz, Platt brought in Winnie Holzman, a playwright who had created ABC’s My So-Called Life. (“I knew she’d understand the two girls and their angst,” he says.) The three of them spent months in Platt’s L.A. office “beating out the story,” sometimes following the novel faithfully; sometimes not.
“Marc is really the one who created the show, along with the authors,” says David Stone C’88 [“Dramatic Entrance,” June 1998], the other lead producer of Wicked. “I actually think that what is on stage is as much, if not more, Marc’s vision than Winnie or Stephen’s or [director] Joe Mantello’s. He’s so involved in shaping a show. We’re all involved creatively, but I’ve never seen anyone who’s so good with a script and material as Marc is.”
“We discovered that we had this great opportunity of really delving into the rest of the characters of The Wizard of Oz and telling the origins of these characters,” Platt explains. “Also, the relationship between the wicked witch and the good witch really took shape, and as long as those two characters were together we realized it was very exciting.”
The story of the two girlsthe green-skinned, outcast, Animal-rescuing Elphaba and the blond-haired, hyper-popular Glindarequired a “lot of inner dialogue,” he adds. “In a film, it’s very hard to get at inner dialogue. You either have to have a voiceover or you have to create the best-friend character you can tell your thoughts to. In a musical, you can literally sing what you’re feeling.
“It seemed like the perfect idea,” he concludes. “And, as it turns out, it was.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. “It was pretty close to a five-year process before it got on stage,” says Julie Platt. “It was not quick and it was not easy. Many times Marc said, ‘This is a train wreck and it’s never going to happen. I don’t know what I was thinking.’ But somewhere in his heart I think he always knew that this was the one.”
Platt doesn’t linger on the difficulties, but he doesn’t deny them, either: “When you have a strong director, as we did in Joe Mantello; strong authors, as we did in Stephen and Winnie; strong producers and designersharnessing all of that energy and intensity was a challenge.”
Yet audiences responded passionately “from the very first reading we did, just actors sitting on chairs in Los Angeles,” he recalls. “And that was our experience every time we put it in front of an audience, in any version. Even when we put it in front of a paying audience in San Francisco and there were songs that didn’t work and the casting was wrong, the audience response was always through the roof.”
After that opening run in San Francisco, partly at the insistence of Stephen Schwartz, Platt shut down Wicked for three months, an unusually long time to retool.
“I decided there was so much at stake and the show was so complicated that before we ever went out of town, we should do something different,” he explains. “I said, ‘Let’s spend more money; let’s make our budget bigger; but no matter what happens in San Francisco, let’s shut the show downmove ourselves not in six weeks but a good three, three-and-a-half months. We’ll put the design in storage, and we’ll do the kind of contracts with actors that’ll allow us to get them back.’ That’s more expensive, but if there was work to be done, I didn’t want to feel like I was on a train that was traveling a hundred miles an hour, with no time to effect changes.”
It was a high-stakes gamble. Even before he made that decision, the budget was already a whopping $12 million.
“I convinced everyone that the way to protect the $12 million was actually to spend $14 million,” Platt says. “That was the additional San Francisco cost. Turns out, we used every minute of that three months. We did retool the script; we did change some of the music and orchestration; we did recast two of the lead characters; we did make scenic adjustments and enhancements. And I think the show benefited tremendously from it.”
The rest is Broadway history.
“Wicked is a very, very rare occurrencean original Broadway musical smash hit,” points out Stacey Snider. “If you put all those words together, it’s something that happens once in a blue moon. You’re more likely to get hit by a meteor.”
“It is my lifetime dream,” admits Platt. “Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a Broadway producer. I didn’t realize it would be with Wicked.”
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©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
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COVER STORY: Passion Plays