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15 Magical Facts About Wicked

Wicked gained a devoted following and made Broadway history so fast that it seems like it’s been around forever. In reality, the musical officially opened on June 10, 2003, at the Curran Theater in San Francisco.

1. The idea for the musical came to Stephen Schwartz on vacation.

Stephen Schwartz, known for writing the musicals Pippin and Godspell, was on vacation in Hawaii in 1996 when a friend mentioned an interesting book she was reading about the origins of the Wicked Witch of the West. Intrigued, Schwartz got the book—Gregory Maguire’s Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West—and was immediately hooked. As soon as he got home from vacation, Schwartz called his lawyer and started working on obtaining the rights.

2. There's a surprising connection between Elphaba and Jordan Catalano.

Winnie Holzman, the writer who wrote the musical’s book, also created one of the most beloved TV shows of our era: My So-Called Life. She also wrote for thirtysomething and Once and Again.

3. There was an Elphaba before Idina.

Though it’s hard to imagine anyone but Idina Menzel making the role famous, she wasn’t the first person to step into Elphaba’s pointed shoes. Stephanie Block read the part while the show was being developed, but was eventually replaced by Menzel, who already had a Tony nomination under her belt. Block would have her day, though: She originated the role in the first national tour in 2005.

4. The show was a smash hit from the get-go …

Usually, it takes even the most successful productions two to three years to recoup the original investment. Wicked made back the $14 million that had been put into it in just 14 months.

5. … but critics weren't initially on board.

“The yellow road has a few bricks missing,” wrote Robert Hurwitt of the San Francisco Chronicle. According to San Jose Mercury News reviewer Karen D’Souza, “Dorothy isn’t the only one who thinks there’s no place like home. About an hour into Wicked, this reviewer started to yearn for a pair of ruby slippers. Style over substance is the real theme in this Emerald City.” After these reviews, Holzman and Schwartz spent three months reworking the show before its Broadway debut.

6. Chenoweth and Menzel were both nominated for Best Actress Tony Awards in 2004.

In the end, Idina Menzel ended up taking home her first Tony. She won a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album the same year (as did Chenoweth). Chenoweth already had a Tony under her belt; she won her first in 1999 for her role as Sally in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

7. Menzel missed her final performance as Elphaba due to an injury.

The day before her final show, Menzel fell several feet through a trap door during a performance. The New York Times reported that Menzel was rushed to the hospital, still wearing her witch costume and green makeup. Fans began to wonder if the Wicked Witch role was cursed—Margaret Hamilton, who played the witch in the Wizard of Oz, suffered serious burns while she was filming the movie.

8. The secret to Elphaba’s emerald skin: MAC makeup.

The trick to getting Elphaba’s skin so brilliantly verdant is a product you can buy at any MAC makeup store: Chromacake, a solid watercolor cake activated with water. We’re assuming the Wicked folks are able to get the stuff in quantities larger than the 3.3 oz. size sold on the website.

You can see the transformation happen here:

9. The show requires a lot of power.

Twelve homes could be powered with the amount of electricity it takes to stage the show every night. The production also requires about 250 pounds of dry ice to create all of that dramatic fog.

10. Listen closely for a tiny little tribute to "Over the Rainbow."

The first few notes of the song "Unlimited/I'm Limited" theme pay homage to the show’s roots. But it's only the first seven notes due to copyright law: "When you get to the eighth note, the people can come and say, ‘Oh you stole our tune,’” Schwartz has said. “And of course it's obviously also disguised in that it's completely different rhythmically. And it's also harmonized completely differently … It's over a different chord and so on, but still it's the first seven notes of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow.'”

11. Kristin Chenoweth did an Anthony Weiner parody of “Popular.”

In 2013, Chenoweth poked a little fun at the Anthony Weiner scandal by modifying the lyrics to her famous song when she performed on the Tonight Show.

12. NASA has used "Defying Gravity" as an astronaut wake-up call.

NASA often provides wake-up calls for astronauts in space. Sometimes it’s based on astronaut requests, and other times the song is space-themed or related to the activities planned for the day. On April 8, 2010, “Defying Gravity” was played to wake up Mission Specialist Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger.

13. The Wicked Witch wasn’t named Elphaba in L. Frank Baum's Oz books.

She was nameless, until Gregory Maguire wrote Wicked. Maguire came up with the moniker by using Baum's initials. L.F.B. = El-pha-ba.

14. There’s a movie in the works ...

It’s been rumored for years that Wicked was on its way to the silver screen, and now, there may finally be some truth to the matter. Stephen Schwartz told Vulture last year that “We’re starting to do some work on it. I don’t know exactly how many years away it is. [We can] really look at it again and say, ‘Oh, we can do this, and we’ve always wanted to do that and we couldn’t onstage, but we can in a movie.’ We’re actually having a blast.”

15. ... but don’t expect Menzel and Chenoweth to reprise their roles.

“I would die to be in [the film], except … they told us we’re a little over the age for that,” Menzel told Andy Cohen last year.

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Chloe Efforn
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Animals
John Lennon Was a Crazy Cat Lady
Chloe Efforn
Chloe Efforn

John Lennon was crazy about cats, and though he owned a couple of dogs (Sally and Bernard) over the years, he was better known for getting by with a little help from his feline friends.

1. ELVIS

Growing up, Lennon's beloved mother, Julia, had a named cat after Elvis Presley, whom Julia and John were both crazy about. The Lennons later realized they had misnamed Elvis when "he" gave birth to a litter of kittens in the cupboard, but they didn't change the cat's name based on that small mistake.

2. AND 3. TICH AND SAM

He had two other cats as a boy growing up in Liverpool: Tich and Sam. Tich passed away while Lennon was away at art school (which he attended from 1957 to 1960), and Sam was named after famous British diarist Samuel Pepys

4. TIM

One day, John Lennon found a stray cat in the snow, which his Aunt Mimi allowed him to keep. (John's Aunt Mimi raised him from a young boy through his late teenage years, and he affectionately referred to her as the Cat Woman.) He named the marmalade-colored half-Persian cat Tim.

Tim remained a special favorite of John's. Every day, he would hop on his Raleigh bicycle and ride to Mr. Smith's, the local fishmonger, where he would buy a few pieces of fish for Tim and his other cats. Even after John became famous as a Beatle, he would often call and check in on how Tim was doing. Tim lived a happy life and survived to celebrate his 20th birthday.

5. AND 6. MIMI AND BABAGHI

John and his first wife, Cynthia, had a cat named Mimi who was, of course, named after his Aunt Mimi. They soon got another cat, a tabby who they dubbed Babaghi. John and Cynthia continued acquiring more cats, eventually owning around 10 of them.

7. JESUS

As a Beatle, John had a cat named Jesus. The name was most likely John's sarcastic response to his "the Beatles are bigger than Jesus" controversy of 1966. But he wasn't the only band member with a cat named Jesus: Paul McCartney once had a trio of kittens named Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

8. AND 9. MAJOR AND MINOR

In the mid-1970s, John had an affair with his secretary, May Pang. One day, the studio receptionist brought a box of kittens into the recording studio where John and May were. "No," John immediately told May, "we can't, we're traveling too much." But she picked up one of the kittens and put it over her shoulder. Then John started stroking the kitten and decided to keep it. At the end of the day, the only other kitten left was a little white one that was so loud no one else wanted it. So they adopted it as well and named the pair Major and Minor.

10. AND 11. SALT AND PEPPER

John owned a pair of black and white cats with his wife Yoko Ono. As befitting John's offbeat sense of humor, many places report he christened the white cat Pepper and the black one Salt.

12. AND 13. GERTRUDE AND ALICE

John and Yoko also had two Russian Blue cats named Gertrude and Alice, who each met tragic ends. After a series of sicknesses, Gertrude was diagnosed with a virus that could become dangerous to their young son, Sean. John later said that he held Gertrude and wept as she was euthanized. 

Later, Alice jumped out of an open window in the Lennons' high-rise apartment at the Dakota and plunged to her death. Sean was present at the time of the accident, and he remembers it as the only time he ever saw his father cry.

14., 15. AND 16. MISHA, SASHA, AND CHARO

In later years, John also owned three cats he named Misha, Sasha, and Charo. Always an artist at heart, John loved to sketch his many cats, and he used some of these pictures as illustrations in his books.

This piece originally ran in 2012.

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entertainment
The Time Sammy Davis Jr. Impersonated Michael Jackson
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Getty Images

Sammy Davis Jr. was known for his impersonations—check out his rendition of “As Time Goes By” as 13 different people. So when he hit the stage with Jerry Lewis for a 1988 TV special, he decided to show the audience that his talents weren’t just limited to acts from his era.

Though he briefly mentions Rod Stewart, his main target was Michael Jackson. Davis and Jackson were extremely close; when Jackson was just in his twenties, he would often show up at Davis’s house unannounced to immerse himself in the archives, a room downstairs that contained videos of Davis’s performances over the years.

“Michael Jackson is more than a friend," Davis—who was born on this day in 1925—explained, while also alluding to the fact that the King of Pop borrowed some dance moves from him. "He’s like a son.” And then he launched into this impression:

Jackson returned the favor during a special on February 4, 1990, in which Hollywood’s biggest stars gathered to honor Davis, who was celebrating six decades in show business:

Sadly, the anniversary show was the last time Davis would perform in public. Though throat cancer had mostly stolen his voice by this point, Davis let his tap shoes do the talking. He died on May 16, 1990—just three months after the tribute aired.

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