Photos: 9 Wicked Secrets of the Gershwin Theatre | Playbill

Photo Features Photos: 9 Wicked Secrets of the Gershwin Theatre

To rejoicify in the 20th anniversary of Wicked on Broadway, take a closer look at the show's longtime home (including the wall signed by Kristin Chenoweth).

The Wicked mural, backstage at The Gershwin Theatre, created by Eddie Pendergraft

Broadway is as much a location as it is an industry. The theatres that make up Broadway are home to countless memories from years gone by, with every production leaving their imprint on the space in various ways. From dressing room tables riddled with signatures to hideaways where paint from decades ago can still be seen, Broadway theatres continue to hold the imprint of their past, even as the seasons go by.

As Wicked prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary on October 30, Playbill took a trip to the Gershwin to check in on nine special details you may have overlooked the last time you visited the space, plus some in-theatre locations you can't visit without working on the show. As the fourth longest running production in Broadway history, these walls have certainly seen their fair share of thrillifying stories!

1. The Time Dragon Clock

The Gershwin Theatre

If you have ever seen Wicked, you'll recognize the Time Dragon Clock, a large silver adornment that hangs above the proscenium at the Gershwin. While the replica touring productions have similar proscenium pieces, the Broadway design is uniquely detailed, and much larger than the touring iteration. While the touring version is run via automatic, the Broadway dragon still maintains its original manual features, with stagehands hard at work to trigger its more lively moments, such as when the dragon's eyes turn red as his nose expels smoke during Elphaba's moments of extreme anger.

The Time Dragon Clock is a "secret in plain sight" for fans of the original Gregory Maguire novels. Within the novels, the Time Dragon Clock is a travelling puppet show that acts out prophetic scenes, unfolding the truth and protecting those that take shelter under its wide silver wings. It is from the Time Dragon Clock that Wicked's gear and clock design motifs were derived, implying that audiences are inside the clock watching the "prophetic show" as described in Maguire's novels. 

2. The Painted Stairway

The Wicked mural, backstage at The Gershwin Theatre, created by Eddie Pendergraft

The Gershwin has two main internal staircases, both of which have become creative shrines to Wicked's history. In one stairway, elaborate murals have been designed depicting sequences from the original film The Wizard of Oz, plus a handful of Wicked specific scenes. Stretched across six flights, eagle eyed art lovers can spot the yellow brick road, the deadly poppy field, citizens of the Emerald City, the living apple trees, Glinda in her bubble, Elphaba on her broom, flying monkeys, and more! The mural is created by former Wicked cast member Eddie Pendergraft (who also covered the role of Boq from 2006 to 2016).

3. The Memorial Stairway

Backstage at The Gershwin Theatre

The other internal stairway serves as a sort of yearbook for the production, with nameplates produced for every performer that works behind the emerald curtain. As the timeline of performers snakes up the stairwell, different moments from the shows history are also celebrated, such as the large placard commemorating 5,000 shows at the Gershwin, pictured here with the "Class of 2017."

4. The Signatures

Backstage at The Gershwin Theatre

Both of the stairwells are home to signatures from the bevy of talent that come through the Gershwin's stage door. It has become a tradition that, in the final week of a person's run, they pick a spot on the wall to write a brief message and sign their name, which has led to hundreds of well wishes and expressions of gratitude covering any empty space on the themed steps.

A person could spend hours reading all of the messages, but Kristin Chenoweth's made the Playbill team laugh: tucked in a low corner, she wrote, "I'm short so I will sign here"!

5. The Theater Hall of Fame

The Gershwin Theatre

Back on the public side of things, the Gershwin is home to the Theater Hall of Fame, a celebratory hall for the artists that have kept Broadway running for decades.

The Theater Hall of Fame was founded in 1970 by James M. Nederlander, Earl Blackwell, and Gerard Oestreicher. To be eligible, individuals have to cross at least one of these thresholds: at least 25 years of experience in the American theatre, have starred in five major productions, or be a leader Off-Broadway or in regional theatre. 

To see the list of names, walk past the merchandise setups in the upper lobbies, and into the domes where the Hall of Fame is housed.

6. The Dorothy Strelsin Theater Collection

The Gershwin Theatre

Also in the first of the upper lobbies is the Dorothy Strelsin Theater Collection. Ms. Strelsin was a beloved philanthropist and theatre lover who left behind the still-operating Dorothy Strelsin Foundation after her passing in 2001.

Originally a Broadway chorus girl, Ms. Strelsin (née Dennis) married the immigrant industrialist Alfred Strelsin, who was himself a patron of the classical arts. Together, the pair were staunch fundraisers of the New York Shakespeare Festival, and Ms. Strelsin was a popular figure in the mid century New York social scene.

Housed at the Gershwin are a number of Ms. Strelsin's favorite theatre artifacts, including photographs, costume pieces, props, and other assorted mementos from shows gone by. You can find the collection on the lifted platform once you exit the escalators that take you from the street level lobby to the first upper lobby.

7. The Gershwin Brothers

The Gershwin Theatre

If you ride the escalators up to the second upper lobby, you will find a massive green lit portrait of the Gershwin brothers, for whom the theatre was renamed in 1983. 

Originally named the Uris, this theatre is one of the newest on Broadway, rising in 1972 as a part of the Special Theater District amendment of 1967 that required developers maintain the theatre district with new performance spaces—this was enacted after a number of historic Broadway theatres were torn down in the rush to redevelop Times Square. When the theatre was rededicated 11 years later, Ira Gershwin was there to see it, making him one of the few individuals to live to see a theatre named in their honor. Ira passed away two months later. The Gershwins' portrait was hung in honor of the two brothers. 

8. The Theatre History Display Cases

The Gershwin Theatre

Throughout both of the upper lobbies, you will find glass display cases filled to the brim with theatrical delights, ranging from complete costumes from productions gone by, to original Tin Pan Alley sheet music and signed photographs from some of America's original stage stars.

Every case contains placards explaining the historical relevance of each piece, and it is well worth your time to come to Wicked early to savor each and every piece of display. The items are refreshed periodically, so if you haven't been back in a few years, now is your chance to take in a hefty dose of history as a prelude to the show!

9. The Rehearsal Studio

Backstage at The Gershwin Theatre

High above the auditorium and triple decker lobby of the Gershwin, there is a little rehearsal studio tucked away. It is decked out with extra props, a piano, and spike tape denoting exactly where the set pieces are located three floors below the studio. 

Most nights, this space also hosts a second show at the same time as Wicked—one that audiences aren't even aware of. While the main show is happening in the auditorium, understudies, swings, and other covers are often also running the show in the rehearsal studio with Wicked's long time production stage manager Marybeth Abel overseeing things. Wicked may have been running for 20 years, but there is always room to fine tune!

READ: Marybeth Abel Reflects on 15 Years With Wicked

To take a closer look at the different locations, as well as the intricate designs in both stairwells, click through the gallery below. Be sure to check in with Playbill for more celebratory (the Glinda way) coverage of Wicked's 20th anniversary.

Photos: 9 Secrets of The Gershwin Theatre

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