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New attitude, but still 'Wicked'

After ten years and tours from Toronto to Toledo, “Wicked” still packs houses. The beloved show comes to Charlotte Wednesday for the second time in three years. Last time, Christine Dwyer understudied Elphaba. This time, Dwyer is Elphaba.

“Wicked” provides an imaginary back story to L. Frank Baum’s Oz books. At the center are Elphaba, born with green skin, and Galinda, a picture-perfect blonde who becomes Glinda. They forge a friendship threatened by misunderstandings, unintended consequences and confused alliances.

Christine Dwyer graduated from Hart School of Music at the University of Hartford with a musical theater degree. Her first big role was as Maureen Johnson in “Rent.” That led to an audition for the Wicked Witch of the West, named Elphaba in Gregory Maguire’s book “Wicked.” She’s not surprised at the play’s popularity.

“It’s the story. It’s the friendship between the two girls. And everyone can relate to being an outcast,” Dwyer says. People also relate to how misunderstood these girls are. “Sometimes they do things that backfire, but I don’t believe that either one of the characters believes she is either wicked or good. (They’re) two girls struggling through their adulthood.”

One of the show’s themes is bullying, which has sparked an alliance between “Wicked” and The National School Climate Center. Its campaign “BullyBust: Promoting a Community of Upstanders,” has provided tool kits to more than 2,000 schools to help create harassment-free learning environments.

“We saw a lot of synergy between the show and what we are trying to accomplish,” said Darlene Faster, Chief Operating Officer of the National School Climate Center. “It looks at what true friendship is and what it means to stand up for what’s right, even when it is very difficult. How do you be different and celebrate that difference?”

The organization has offered contests aligned with songs from the show. The “Defying Gravity” essay contest features an incident in which someone displayed “Upstander” behavior, that is, stood up against bullying. The “For Good” video contest also celebrates Upstander stories and is an example of how kids can use technology for good, as opposed to cyber-bullying.

To date, The National School Climate Center has partnerships with 51 schools in North Carolina. “Wicked” cast members have helped to create personal videos about being bullied, and some have visited participating schools.

Dwyer knows what it’s like to be bullied: “I was the drama geek in school. Now it is the cool thing to do, which is awesome, but it was definitely not the cool thing to do when I was in school.” She surrounded herself with other kids who felt judged by the larger society, “so we didn’t judge each other. (And) my parents supported me to be as different as I wanted to be.”

Now her oddity is green skin, which is applied in 20 minutes. Dwyer has been performing in the show for three years and as Elphaba for 10 months. “A bunch of us are having our last performances in Charlotte,” she says. She’ll spend her 28th birthday in the Queen City, before returning to New York to audition all over again.

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