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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 3, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 27
WICKED - An interview with Michael DeVries
Arts & Entertainment
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WICKED - An interview with Michael DeVries

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

WICKED
PARAMOUNT THEATRE
July 8-August 2


The blockbuster musical WICKED is one of those shows that consistently lives up to the name 'Crowd Pleaser.' Celebrating its 11th year on Broadway, the musical delivers musical entertainment by one of America's most celebrated composer/lyricist, Stephen Schwartz. As WICKED once again gets ready to cast its spell over the Emerald City, the Seattle Gay News talks to Michael DeVries, who plays one of the leading roles, Dr. Dillamond.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences as a performer?

Michael DeVries: I grew up listening to musical theater recordings on a hi-fi, so I grew up on the classics: Camelot, My Fair Lady, and Man of La Mancha. It wasn't people [in the field] as much as the genre. I got carried away by the magic of musical theater. Most of that happened before I even saw a show. The composers are, I guess, what drew me into them; Lerner and Loewe, Rodgers and Hammerstein&I never really considered musicals or even theater as a career until I got to college. I got into a singing group and realized that's what I wanted to do. The first performer that took my breath away was Luciano Pavarotti. I wanted to study the art of singing so I transferred to study opera. Pavarotti is a 'once in a century' voice, as far as I'm concerned. I remember finding a record in a bin (vinyl, if you remember that), called 'King of the High C's.' I took it home and listened to it, letting it transport me with an incredible experience.

Andrews-Katz: You originally came to the University of Washington to get a music degree. What do you play, and how did you move to acting?

DeVries: I don't play anything, really. I applied as a vocal performance major. My first audition was for the School of Music at the University of Washington, and it didn't go so well. I wasn't accepted. I was fortunate enough to be in a couple of the main stage productions there. I also did the Civic Light Opera, doing Gilbert and Sullivan. The thing that changed me from an operatic hopeful to a musical theater performer was my first professional job at the Santé Fe Opera Company. I spent the summer doing ensemble work for their season. I realized I just didn't like opera. When I worked there, it was more about the voice than the dramatic pieces. I made the transition to musical theater in 1982 and have been doing it ever since.

Andrews-Katz: CATS marked your Broadway debut. How did you audition for that? Do you sing? Dance? Play with a ball of yarn?

DeVries: I was in the ensemble - a booth singer. That's someone that sings in a booth to enhance the voices on stage. This was all in the days before faxes and computers. These days they email you the list of songs to be familiar with, but then you brought in your best 16 bars and sang the Hell out of it, hoping they liked it. I was hired mostly as a singer, but the role I covered wasn't a dancing role. I didn't have to dance much in CATS.

Andrews-Katz: What was it like to work with the incomparable Tommy Tune in Grand Hotel?

DeVries: I was blown away! He is a genius. I sat in rehearsals and watch this man go through the opening sequence that introduces the characters over and over again. Tommy Tune would go through [trying] the process 15 or 20 different ways. After the 20th time he'd say, 'OK. We are going back to the third way we did it,' and he could keep the differences in his mind and knew which one was which number. It was magnificent what he could do with a stage picture. I worked on Grand Hotel very early on in Boston, and in pre-Broadway in New York. It was one of the most amazing experiences I've ever been through.

Andrews-Katz: Grand Hotel was a darker themed musical. What are some of the darker themes explored?

DeVries: It's about dreams and dreams deferred, and how dreams can lead you down the wrong path. I think the character 'Flenchen,' and of her dream of being a Hollywood actress and what she sacrifices for that dream. You see 'Soushenstyle,' the ballerina, and her Lesbian assistant dealing with the unrequited love she has for the ballerina, and what she sacrifices for that. It is really a dark but fascinating musical.

Andrews-Katz: There are several theories that WICKED is an allegory. Do you think it is, and if so, what is it an allegory for?

DeVries: It's not something I've ever contemplated. I have no answer to that. I know that the original books, The Wizard of Oz, were supposedly allegories written in response to the economic times that L. Frank Baum lived in. It's supposedly a commentary on consumerism as well. I don't understand all of those allegories, but I know they've been connected to the books. It terms of an allegory of WICKED, I'll have to keep my eyes open and see.

Andrews-Katz: What is it about WICKED that resonates with people so well?

DeVries: I think it's the storytelling. It's so wonderful. It touches people in a way that lingers because it is about the underdog. It's about disenfranchised people finding their place in the world. We've all felt disenfranchised, or discriminated against at some point in our lives. The marketing tends to be towards young girls in pre-teens/early teens, and it's about friendship. I look at the two witches and their journey from enemies to best friends. How they are willing to give up their lives for each other. It's that journey that is universal. I think anyone who has had a friend has gone through a period like that where you've had a rough spot and eventually became something else. It touches people in very elemental ways and does it with so much humor and heart. I find myself affected by the show still, even after 10 years. It's been a great journey being associated with the show for so long. I think that's a big part of what WICKED brings to the audiences.

Andrews-Katz: What is the most challenging thing about working on WICKED?

DeVries: The role I have now is Dr. Dillamond, and it's a wonderfully fulfilling role. I have to say I'm only on stage for 18 minutes, so there's not a lot of bad things that can happen. [Knocks on wood.] I did the ensemble for nine years and the most challenging thing is that we performed on a raked/angled stage - it's higher in the back than in the front so the audiences can see everything better. Then there are the demands on your time and that's kind of difficult. There are times you're rehearsing two or three times a week during the day only to perform in the show during the evening. It's your job and you do it, eventually getting used to it, but it's a challenge. As Dr. Dillamond, I don't have those demands and it makes being on the road a real pleasure.

Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role regardless of limitations or restrictions, what would it be and why?

DeVries: Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady is a role I always wanted to play. He is such a wonderful combination of human being and curmudgeon. It's a great role. The role I would love to play - if I was a woman - would be 'Lizzie' in the musical 110 in the Shade. The song 'Is It Really Me' tears my heart out. It's just a brilliant piece of music and I think her journey is just magnificent.

WICKED the musical is based on Gregory Maguire's best selling novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. After a tryout in San Francisco, the musical opened on Broadway more than a decade ago where it continues to play to sold-out houses.

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GREASE - An interview with Sarah Rose Davis
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Wizzer Pizzer: Getting Over the Rainbow

An interview with Amy Wheeler

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What's hot for July stage openings
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WICKED - An interview with Michael DeVries
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Verdi's Don Carlos in German
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Can excellent soloists save the show?
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Georgia Ragsdale's mostly-comic memoir, Follow You Everywhere, was the hit of the weekend
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The Return of Chaos at Teatro ZinZanni
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LETTER TO THE EDITOR
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Mike still has plenty of magic
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Bawdy Overnight a promiscuously adventurous affair
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Energetic Dope overflowing in youthful vitality
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Beautiful, movingly intimate Marnie an animated masterpiece
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