Jane Lawson, Wicked cast member Becca Kloha and Licia Pettit backstage at Wicked: The Musical at the Civic Center in Des Moines.
Jane Lawson, Wicked cast member Becca Kloha and Licia Pettit backstage at Wicked: The Musical at the Civic Center in Des Moines.
December 2, 2013



In October, "Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz" celebrated its 10th anniversary on Broadway. This wildly popular show has won 10 Tony Awards and features two main characters, Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West.

The story of the two witches is based on the 1995 novel "Wicked" by Gregory Maguire, the 1939 movie "The Wizard of Oz" and L. Frank Baum's 1900 classic story "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."

Glinda and Elphaba begin as unlikely friends before their steadfast rivalry begins. The story takes place in the Land of Oz before and after Dorothy's arrival from Kansas. There are twists and turns throughout the storyline including love triangles, lessons to be learned and surprising connections to "The Wizard of Oz."

Not many know someone in the theater business, but my mother's cousin David Strand, of Lafayette, Ind., has a son, Ryan Strand, a theater performer. Ryan was part of the swing crew of the national tour of "Jersey Boys" that came to Des Moines in 2010. My mother and husband and I went out to dinner with Ryan and his wife, Becca Kloha, before we saw "Jersey Boys" at the Civic Center.

Ryan and Becca are enjoying fulfilling theater careers. Ryan just finished up the Broadway show "Soul Doctor" in New York City, and Becca returned to Des Moines for three weeks in October and November as a crossover swing in the national tour of "Wicked."

Becca grew up singing, dancing and acting in eastern Kentucky and graduated with a degree from Webster University Conservatory and was gracious enough to share with me a little about her exciting career.

The crossover swing position doesn't always exist in other shows, but in "Wicked" there are three male and three female swings in the show. Becca feels fortunate to have found such a good fit as her position means she covers nine roles if any of the females are ill, have a personal day or on vacation. Since there are so many roles to cover, Becca ends up on stage about 30 to 40 percent of the time.

"It's definitely never boring and keeps my brain sharp," she said. "I don't play the witches, but I cover everyone who is a dancer or singer who has a special job with lines such as Elphaba's mother or the midwife who delivers her."

With nine roles to cover, Becca has a lot to remember, and it took her a few months to learn them all.

"It's almost mathematical. But after a while, I'm happy to say, it becomes a very rewarding job," said Becca.

Becca said other than the witches, she feels like she has the best job in the company. She gets to play the fun supporting roles including a flying monkey and wear the beautiful ball gowns while dancing and partnering with other cast members.

When Becca first became part of the cast of "Wicked" she was most surprised at the organization of the show itself. She describes the production as a "well-oiled machine."

Becca explains, ""Every aspect of the show, from what happens behind the scenes, to what the audience sees onstage is so wonderfully organized and conducted, it was very impressive."

Becca also realizes a show like "Wicked" is rare as it has found a broad audience over its 10-year run. She said it's amazing to be a part of something that is so meaningful to so many people, and continues to affect people for good, night after night, week after week.

Last month my good friend Licia Pettit, of Ankeny, and I were lucky to have scored amazing third-row seats to "Wicked" at the Civic Center. From start to finish, I was captivated by the sights and sounds of the show. I loved it all - from the surprises in the storyline to the incredible voices to the intricate details of the set and props. I found my toes tapping to the music not wanting the show to end.

After the show, Becca invited us to meet her backstage for a tour. Licia and I were very excited to go backstage but had no idea we would get such an up-close and personal view of the ins and outs of "Wicked."

The first thing Becca showed us was the large prop box that held every prop in the show. Right away I noticed Glinda's crystal wand. It was so shiny onstage I asked if it was real Swarovski crystals. Becca said yes, but during the scene where Glinda throws the wand, a prop version with imitation crystals is thrown instead.

Becca showed us a little stage magic as the Wizard's green elixir is actually created by a glow stick floating in green mouthwash.

The prop box also contained the black hat Glinda gifts Elphaba. I had noticed the hat Glinda pulls from the hat box was adorned with black silk flowers, but when Elphaba appears wearing the hat, it is a plain hat. Becca said my observation was correct.

Backstage we also saw the regal gold chair and the large wizard head. Becca explained the tour has 13 semi-trucks that carry the show's set including props, costumes, wigs, musicians' instruments, and sound and lighting equipment.

The set is so big it only fits in larger venues due to the size of the props and due to the fact that the show travels with its own flooring tracks which create the stage.

The crew has a big responsibility to create illusions with props and even machines. In the show when Elphaba is seen levitating into the air, Becca shared she is being raised by the help of a cherry picker fork lift. She also told us the huge dragon head with glowing eyes affixed to the front of the stage is so immense, there are two of them. It is time-consuming to install the dragon head, so one travels ahead to the next show to conserve time.

My favorite part of the tour was seeing Becca's personal show wardrobe. She explained that even though she fills in for others, all of her costumes are custom-made for her and each one is unique. For each of the scenes, her character's costume is unlike any of the others. She also showed us how all of the clothing is made to be a little bit asymmetrical with zippers that aren't quite straight.

My favorite piece was her crystal-adorned Emerald City costume. "One Short Day (in Emerald City)" number was my favorite in the show. The vibrant green backdrop and gold and green costumes were so fun to see. The man riding the oversized tricycle and the other man zipping around on a Razor scooter added a sense of playfulness to the number. I loved the upbeat tempo of the song combined with the acrobatic moves and gymnastic ribbon wand throughout. I couldn't help but smile throughout the entire song.

As Becca showed us her costumes she explained one of the show's dressmakers is world-renowned and is the same one who did the beadwork on Kate Middleton's wedding gown for her marriage to Prince William. Becca also showed us her collection of custom-made shoes and boots made by one of the three shoemakers for the show.

We were also able to see the quick-change dressing areas used by the cast. Each witch has her own area to do her hair and makeup touch-ups throughout the show. I spotted Glinda's shimmering crystal bodice in her dressing area, and it was so tiny to fit her petite frame.

The character that plays Elphaba does her own green makeup for each show, and surprisingly, Becca said, it comes off very easily.

During our tour we were also able to meet and shake hands with the characters that play the Wizard and Elphaba. After the tour Becca was off to Splash for a party for a cast member who was leaving the show.

Our night seeing "Wicked" was unforgettable, and the backstage tour added to our incredible evening. I hope to see the show again, but for now I have the "Wicked" CD on repeat in my car.



Wicked Good Chicken

Ann Fulton needed a name for the chicken recipe her children loved so much and decided it was so good, it was wicked. It's ideal for a quick, weeknight dinner.

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1/2 cup Dijon mustard

1/4 cup pure maple syrup (could substitute honey)

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper

dried or fresh rosemary (optional)

Mix mustard, maple syrup and vinegar together in a medium-size bowl. Place chicken in a 9×13 baking dish and pour mustard mixture over the top. Flip chicken so that it is fully coated with sauce. Then sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, as well as a little dried, crushed rosemary or minced, fresh rosemary, if desired.

Bake at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes, depending on size of chicken breasts, or until chicken is just cooked through. Half way through cooking time, spoon some of the sauce from the baking dish over chicken. Allow chicken to rest for five minutes before serving.



Wicked Good Veggie Chili

A touch of cinnamon and a spoonful of honey turn ordinary chili into wicked good chili.

1/2 cup texturized vegetable protein or 1 pkg veggie crumbles

1 cup water

2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon honey

2 (12 oz) cans kidney beans with liquid

2 (12 oz) cans diced tomatoes with juice

1 green bell pepper, chopped

2 carrots, finely chopped

1 bunch green onions, chopped

1 bunch cilantro, chopped

1 (8 oz) container dairy sour cream

Place the textured vegetable protein in water and soak 30 minutes. Press to drain. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat, and sauté vegetable protein, onion, and garlic until onion is tender and vegetable protein is evenly browned (if using veggie crumbles, sauté onion and garlic, then add vegetable protein. Season with salt, pepper, 1/2 the chili powder, 1/2 the cumin, 1/2 the cayenne pepper, and cinnamon. Mix in honey, beans, tomatoes, green bell pepper, and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes. Season the chili with remaining chili powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper, and continue cooking 15 minutes. To serve, divide into bowls, garnish with green onions and cilantro, and top with dollops of sour cream.

Wicked Easy Fudge Brownies

One of King Arthur flour's favorite brownie recipes is so easy and it makes a moist and delicious pan of brownies every time.

1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

2 cups sugar

3/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa or Dutch-process cocoa or 1/2 cup black cocoa + 1/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa or Dutch-process cocoa

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

3 large eggs

1 stick butter or margarine, melted

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Put all of the ingredients into a large bowl in the order in which they're written. Stir; then beat the mixture till smooth. Spoon the batter into a lightly greased 9x13-inch pan. Bake the brownies in a preheated 375 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until they're just barely beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let them cool completely before cutting.

Yield: about 2 dozen brownies



Linda's Wicked Awesome Apple Pie

If you've ever thought a homemade apple pie sounds too difficult, this recipe from tastebook.com is simple and easy to understand.

Crust:

2 Cups Flour

2/3 Cup Shortening

1/2 Cup Water (warm)

Apple Filling:

10 Apples, sliced

1 cup Sugar

2 tablespoons flour

1 tablespoons cinnamon

1 pinch nutmeg

To make crust:

Mix 1 1/2 cups flour with shortening and water, beat with a fork to remove lumps and then add remaining flour. Flour working surface and rolling pin. Roll out a top and bottom for the pie. Place the bottom crust in a pie plate.

To make filling:

Mix dry ingredients and then coat apples. Place filling into pie crust. Cover with top. Seal edges by pinching and cut a few slits in the top to vent. Bake for 50-60 minutes in 400 degree oven. Top with ice cream.



Wicked Awesome Cookies

Oatmeal, peanut butter and chocolate come together to make a simple cookie and your kitchen won't be covered in flour when you're done baking.

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

4 eggs

2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 jar peanut butter (18 oz jar)

6 cups oatmeal (not quick oats)

12 oz chocolate bits

Cream butter, sugar and brown sugar. Add eggs and mix thoroughly. Add remaining ingredients one at a time; mixing by hand. Do not use mixer. Batter will be stiff and sticky. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Cool on wire rack.