15 Magical Facts About Wicked

Frank Micelotta, Getty Images
Frank Micelotta, Getty Images

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—and it was just announced that it will be turned into a film, hitting theaters December 2021. Here's what you need to know about the musical.

1. The idea for Wicked 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 Menzel.

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 (for Rent). Block would have her day, though: She originated the role in the first national tour in 2005.

4. Wicked 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. Kristin Chenoweth and Idina 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. Wicked contains a tribute to The wizard of Oz's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

The first few notes of the song "Unlimited/I'm Limited" theme pay homage to the show’s Wizard of Oz 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 Wicked's "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 [PDF] 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. The film adaptation of Wicked is slated to hit theaters in 2021 ...

In 2014, 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.” It took a few years, but the film is finally slated to hit theaters in December 2021. The film adaptation will be directed by Stephen Daldry, who previously helmed Billy Elliot.

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 in 2014.

Why Are the Academy Awards Statuettes Called Oscars?

Getty Images
Getty Images

In 2013, the Academy Awards were officially rebranded as simply The Oscars, after the famed statuette that winners receive. "We're rebranding it," Oscar show co-producer Neil Meron told The Wrap at the time. "We're not calling it 'the 85th annual Academy Awards,' which keeps it mired somewhat in a musty way. It's called 'The Oscars.'" But how did the statuette get that nickname in the first place?

The popular theory is that the nickname for the Academy Award of Merit (as the statuette is officially known) was coined by Academy Award librarian and future Director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Margaret Herrick. The story goes that when Herrick first saw the statue in 1931, she said that it looked like her Uncle Oscar. According to Emanuel Levy, author of All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards, columnist Sidney Skolsky was there when Herrick said this and would later write that, “Employees have affectionately dubbed their famous statuette ‘Oscar.’”

While the first documented use of “Oscar” as the nickname for the statuette was made by Skolsky—in a 1934 New York Daily News article—there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that Skolsky was actually responsible for the above quote. Skolsky, in his 1975 memoir Don’t Get Me Wrong, I Love Hollywood, claimed he first used the nickname referencing a classic vaudeville joke line, “Will you have a cigar, Oscar?” in an attempt to mock the Academy Awards:

"It was my first Academy Awards night when I gave the gold statuette a name. I wasn’t trying to make it legitimate. The snobbery of that particular Academy Award annoyed me. I wanted to make the gold statuette human. ... It was twelve thirty when I finally arrived at the Western Union office on Wilcox to write and file my story. I had listened to Academy, industry, and acceptance talk since seven thirty ... There I was with my notes, a typewriter, blank paper, and that Chandler feeling.

You know how people can rub you the wrong way. The word was a crowd of people. I’d show them, acting so high and mighty about their prize. I’d give it a name. A name that would erase their phony dignity. I needed the magic name fast. But fast! I remembered the vaudeville shows I’d seen. The comedians having fun with the orchestra leader in the pit would say, “Will you have a cigar, Oscar?” The orchestra leader reached for it; the comedians backed away, making a comical remark. The audience laughed at Oscar. I started hitting the keys ...

“THE ACADEMY awards met with the approval of Hollywood, there being practically no dissension … The Academy went out of its way to make the results honest and announced that balloting would continue until 8:00 o’clock of the banquet evening … Then many players arrive late and demanded the right to vote … So voting continued until 10 o’clock or for two hours after the ballot boxes were supposed to be closed … It was King Vidor who said: “This year the election is on the level” … Which caused every one to comment about the other years … Although Katharine Hepburn wasn’t present to receive her Oscar, her constant companion and the gal she resides with in Hollywood, Laura Harding, was there to hear Hepburn get a round of applause for a change…”

During the next year of columns, whenever referring to the Academy Award, I used the word 'Oscar.' In a few years, Oscar was the accepted name. It proved to be the magic name."

"Mouse's Return," a September 11, 1939 article in TIME magazine, seems to back up Skolsky’s above claim, stating:

"This week Sidney Skolsky joined the growing stable of writers that Publisher George Backer is assembling for his New York Post. Hollywood thought Publisher Backer had picked the right horse, for Skolsky is one of the ablest columnists in the business (he originated the term “Oscar” for Academy Awards) and by far the most popular …"

Though Skolsky has actual evidence to back his claim, his assertion that he coined the nickname is still slightly in doubt. Many claim that during Walt Disney’s Academy Award acceptance speech for Three Little Pigs in 1934—the same year Skolsky first covered the Awards—Disney referred to the statuette his little "Oscar," which was supposedly an already well-established nickname for it within the industry. The term Oscar was commonly used as a mocking nickname for the Academy Award (as Skolsky claims he used it), but in this theory, Walt Disney was supposedly the first in the industry to publicly use the name in a positive light.

Perhaps Herrick really did think the statuette resembled her uncle. Or maybe Skolsky really did come up with the moniker (whether he did or not, he certainly helped popularize it). In the end, nobody really knows why the Academy Award statuette is called an Oscar.

The idea for the design of the Academy Award statuette was thought up by MGM director Cedric Gibbons. His idea was to have a knight gripping a sword while standing on a film reel. Sculptor George Stanley was then hired to create the actual statuette based on this design idea. The first Academy Awards ceremony was held on May 16, 1929 in the Blossom Room of Hollywood's Roosevelt Hotel. The nickname Oscar wasn’t officially adopted for the statuette by the Academy until 1939.

Incidentally, the Academy states that the five spokes on the film reel the knight is standing on signify the original five branches of the Academy: writers, directors, actors, producers, and technicians.

Daven Hiskey runs the wildly popular interesting fact website Today I Found Out. To subscribe to his “Daily Knowledge” newsletter, click here.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This article originally appeared in 2013.

11 Dothraki Words and Phrases Every Game of Thrones Fan Should Know

Helen Sloan, HBO
Helen Sloan, HBO

You know the words khal and khaleesi, but consider working these other words and phrases from the Dothraki language—which was created by linguist David J. Peterson, and featured in Living Language Dothraki—into your vocabulary before the final season of Game of Thrones premieres on April 14, 2019.

1. M’athchomaroon!

The Dothraki way of saying hi, this word—which can also be shortened to M’ach! or M’ath!—translates to “With respect.” To say hello to a group of non-Dothrakis, you would use the phrase Athchomar chomakea, which literally translates to “Respect to those that are respectful.” Fonas chek, which translates to "hunt well," is one way to say goodbye.

2. San athchomari yeraan!

Peterson writes that the Dothraki have no word for “thank you.” Instead, use this phrase, which literally translates to “a lot of honor to you!” but basically means “much respect!”

3. Fichas jahakes moon!

These are Dothraki fighting words, meant to encourage the warriors in their khalasar (or Dothraki group). This phrase means “get him!” but literally translates to “Take his braid”—which makes sense, since Dothrakis cut off their braids after a defeat. A Dothraki who wins a lot of battles is a lajak haj, or “strong warrior.”

4. And 5. Yer shekh ma shieraki anni and Yer jalan atthirari anni

Jason Momoa and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Both of these phrases—the first said by a male, the second by a female—mean “you are my loved one,” but they literally translate to phrases well-known to Game of Thrones fans: “You are my sun and stars” and “You are the moon of my life.” As Peterson notes, “these expressions come from Dothraki mythology, in which the sun is the husband of the moon.”

6. Anha dothrak adakhataan

Peterson writes that “as a result of the importance of horses to Dothraki culture, there are many idiomatic expressions related to horses and riding.” This phrase is best used before a meal: It means “I’m about to eat,” and literally translates to “I ride to eating.” If you were Dothraki, you’d likely be eating fresh horsemeat (gavat) and drinking mare’s milk (lamekh ohazho, which is often just shortened to lamekh).

7. Hrazef

This is Dothraki for horse, and there are many other words relating to horses in the language. A good one to know is the word for the great stallion, a.k.a., “the deity worshipped by the Dothraki”: vezhof.

8. Addrivat

Joseph Naufahu, Tamer Hassan, Emilia Clarke, Elie Haddad, Darius Dar Khan, and Diogo Sales in Game of Thrones
HBO

If there’s one thing the Dothraki are very good at, it’s killing, and they have multiple words for the deed. This is a verb meaning “to kill,” and literally translates to “to make something dead.” Both Ds are pronounced. It’s used, according to Peterson, “when the killer is a sentient being.” (Drozhat is used when a person is killed by an animal or an inanimate object, "like a fallen rock," Peterson writes.)

9. Asshekhqoyi vezhvena!

The next time your friend or loved one is celebrating another year around the sun, use this Dothraki phrase, which means “happy birthday” but literally translates to “[Have] a great blood-day!”

10. Zhavorsa or Zhavvorsa

Dothraki for dragon. Finne zhavvorsa anni? means “Where are my dragons?” This word might not be super applicable in everyday life, so jano—the Dothraki word for dog or dogs—is probably more appropriate.

11. Vorsa

Dracarys—a.k.a., what Dany says to Drogon to get him to let loose—is the High Valyrian word for dragonfire. It's unclear if the Dothraki have a word for dragonfire, but the word for fire is vorsa. Sondra, meanwhile, is their word for obsedian—or, as it's called on Game of Thrones, dragonglass.

For more information on the Dothraki language and culture, pick up Living Language Dothraki: A Conversational Language Course Created by David J. Peterson Based on the Hit Original HBO Series Game of Thrones at Amazon.

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