Mesmerizing. That’s the one word used to describe what’s been hailed as Broadway’s biggest blockbuster, Wicked, which has been charming audiences since its debut in 2003. The tale of the early relationship of the witches in the Wizard of Oz has made several visits to Austin in recent years and returns for a three-week run at Bass Concert Hall February 19 to March 9.
With its grand music, whimsical costumes, touching story and subtle humor, Wicked explores how two very different girls, Elphaba and Glinda, develop a close friendship that most definitively “changes them for good.” As Wicked actor John Hillner explains, in addition to delivering a spellbinding and entertaining story, the multi-layered production offers many reflections and life lessons. “Wicked is a huge experience — it’s a lot to take in. I think there is a chance to be enlightened and informed on many, many different levels.”
You may know Hillner from his appearances on Law and Order, Seinfeld, Body of Proof, or Person of Interest, or his role in Say Anything, the 1980s cult classic movie starring John Cusack. “I always play guys in suits that look like they are from the Midwest. They look good but they have a heart of darkness,” Hillner says.
In Wicked, Hillner trades in his usual wardrobe for an animal costume and his heart of darkness for a heart of gold, playing a university professor who happens to be an intelligent talking goat. Like many of the musical’s characters, Dr. Dillamond suffers for being different, a common experience that bonds him to Elphaba. “I recognize her as kindred spirit. She is very different. She’s green. I am an animal in a human world and we both have a background of being different and being persecuted,” Hillner says.
Hillner jokes that in addition to his history of playing ‘suits,’ many of the characters he’s portrayed over his decades long career have been ‘offed’ by the end of the story. Playing Dr. Dillamond has allowed him to honor these two traditions. To transform himself into a goat, Hillner dons a goat head, makeup, a fur robe, a tail and hooves ... and of course, a suit and tie. And, without giving too much away, his character does make a rather dramatic exit.
“Even though my time on stage as Dr. Dillamond is very limited, I have a great amount of impact on the story. I inform Elphaba of what is going on in Oz and propel her on her journey.”
Hillner says Dr. Dillamond, like most other characters in the musical, has his own unique abilities and should not be judged by his appearance alone. “I think the major theme in Wicked is that you have to give people a chance. You have to understand that everybody has something more to offer than what is on the surface.”
If you want to be entertained, provoked and moved, don’t miss the opportunity to see this production — even for a second or third time. Hillner sums it up best with this: “You can’t really get it all in one sitting. One viewing is very powerful ... however you could see this again and again and never get the whole story.”
During his Austin stay, John Hillner will also be sharing his varied acting experience with University of Texas Theatre students. The Broadway veteran will be teaching an "Auditioning for Musical Theatre" master acting class.