Allison Bailey first saw “Wicked” on Broadway when she was 12 years old.
Actress Jennifer Thompson had recently replaced the Tony-nominated Kristin Chenoweth in the iconic role of Glinda when the impressionable Bailey sat in the audience at the Gershwin Theatre.
“I was instantly hooked and mesmerized by the show and its message,” Bailey said.
It also spurred her desire to pursue acting. She sang “Popular,” a Glinda showcase piece in the musical, for her admission audition to Boston Conservatory at Berklee (she got in) and, a few years later, received her own tap of the good witch wand when she landed the understudy role of Glinda for yet another national tour of the durable musical about friendship and celebrating the unique.
In September, after three years and eight months as an understudy, Bailey was promoted and now leads the cast as Glinda (initially introduced as “Galinda”) with Talia Suskauer as her frenemy, Elphaba, in the only show that rivals “Hamilton” in popularity and rabid fan base.
Of course, “Wicked” — based on Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel, “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Winnie Holzman — has been enchanting audiences much longer. Its Broadway production opened in 2003, earned a trifecta of Tony Awards the following year and is still playing to 99-100 percent capacity at the Gershwin. It trails only “The Lion King” as Broadway’s top-grossing musical.
The first national tour launched in 2005 and the musical’s four-week return to Atlanta marks the longest run for a Broadway in Atlanta touring show since, well, “Wicked,” in 2011.
The production staging, which was able to be removed from its last tour stop in New Orleans without incident following the nearby implosion of the Hard Rock Hotel, will commandeer The Fox Theatre today through Nov. 17.
For Bailey, it’s a close-to-homecoming considering she grew up in Pensacola, Florida, and spent many childhood vacations attending Atlanta Braves games and visiting the Georgia Aquarium.
Her excitement about performing at the Fox Theatre in front of some family and friends was evident as she chatted from New Orleans earlier in October (the show’s final 12 shows there were canceled following the Hard Rock incident). She’s also a proud prophet of the Gospel of “Wicked,” and said the inherent message in the show hasn’t diminished despite her long tenure as Glinda.
“It’s such a well-loved story with the ‘Wizard of Oz’ (backdrop), and to get to see it from another point of view makes it such a cultural phenomenon,” Bailey said.
Glinda is, as fans of “Wicked” are aware, a bubbly blond easily cast as superficial. But her eventual friendship with the perpetually misunderstood Elphaba is the heart of a story that, like the music of The Rolling Stones and the mythology of “Star Wars,” transcends generations.
“What really resonated with me was that message of friendship,” Bailey said. “You don’t see two powerful female characters as leads in a show. And the crowd, you honestly see from (ages) eight to 80. It’s unbelievable how much this show resonates with all age groups and all walks of life. And these are people who come back to see it again and again.”
Bailey spends her pre-show time listening to country music (Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini and Dan + Shay are favorites) before popping into Suskauer’s dressing room to check in with her co-star before hitting the stage. It isn’t lost on Bailey when she sings her favorite song in the show — “Popular” — that she used to listen to the “Wicked” soundtrack on the way to school and now performs its classic songs for an audience much, much larger than a parental unit.
“When I go on stage every night and come down in that bubble,” she said, “I think of every little boy or girl in the audience who might be seeing it for the first time.”
Oct. 23 through Nov. 17. Times vary. $43-$203. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 1-855-285-8499, foxtheatre.org.
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