• WICKED raises more than $25,000 at Witches Night Off

    • By Julie Yolles, Broadway World Detroit

    WICKED National Tour at Detroit Opera House Raises Over $25,000 for Open Hands Food Pantry and BC/EFA

    Julie Yolles, Broadwayworld.com

    Suffice it to say that the company members of the Broadway National Tour of WICKED are popular with St. John's Episcopal Church supporters--very. While here in Michigan for their month-long stop at the Detroit Opera House-their last performance is Sept. 2- the WICKED team left the Land of Oz for one evening to perform a sold-out benefit concert in front of 450 supporters. It was Witches' Night Off and oh, what a night.

    The concert raised $25,562.45 to be split between Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA) and the Open Hands Food Pantry, which is run by and operated out of St. John's Episcopal Church in Royal Oak, Michigan. In addition, BC/EFA has awarded a $5,000 grant to Open Hands Food Pantry.

    "Our catch phrase is that 'Hunger is real in Oakland County,' St. John's Rev. Beth Taylor says. "We have some of the wealthiest zip codes in the country and, yet, we provide hunger relief to over 14,000 people a year at our Open Hands Food Pantry."

    Long before she was Rector at St. John's Royal Oak, Taylor was involved in musical theatre and choir at Northern Arizona University. It was there where she met many of her life-long friends including Tregoney Shepherd, who plays the Midwife and understudies Madame Morrible in WICKED and was the Witches' Night Off Production Show Director.

    "Tregoney is one of my best friends. She is extraordinarily talented," says Taylor. "We have always said that if there was any chance to support each other, we would."

    And they have. Ten years ago, when Shepherd was on tour with PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, Taylor was working for a non-profit in Denver and Shepherd and her castmates put on a concert that raised $10,000. When Taylor found out her BFF was coming to Detroit with the National Tour of WICKED, she enlisted Shepherd's help once again.

    "Putting on a musical benefit is our way of giving back to the community and our opportunity to 'do good' for someone else," said Shepherd who fondly recalls her days in college when she was a singing waitress and Taylor was a hostess at Black Bart's Steakhouse in Flagstaff, Ariz.

    Over the four-week run, Taylor and Shepherd have gotten together a few times and Shepherd even sang during a Sunday service at St. John's prior to a 2 p.m. matinee at the Detroit Opera House where WICKED has been since Aug. 1

    While Shepherd has been on tour with WICKED since 2015, Justin Wirick has been on tour with WICKED for almost nine years-that's 3,000-plus performances, in 50 states, eight provinces and 15 countries. When this national tour celebrates its 10th year in March 2019, WICKED will have raised nearly $5 million for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and local non-profits, health and AIDS service organizations all over the country. Since joining the tour, Wirick has been the Witches' Night Off Event Co-Producer and Fundraising Coordinator for 33 cabaret benefits.

    "I learned about fundraising and putting on a concert of this magnitude from Don Richard, who was one of the original cast members on this tour," said Wirick who plays seven roles in the ensemble. When Richard left the show in 2012, Wirick and Ryan Jackson took over the reins. Jackson left in 2016 and Wirick continues the monumental, intricate planning for two-to-three benefits a year.

    "Don Richard instilled a passion in us to help others and fulfill the mission of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS," Wirick says. "Being a part of the Broadway community, Ryan and I felt it was important to keep Don's legacy going."

    To do that, Wirick and Shepherd started the planning with Taylor weeks before arriving in Detroit. The concert sold out immediately. WICKED Assistant Conductor, Brett Rowe, provided the musical accompaniment that evening for the cast members who performed 18 show-stopping, non-WICKED numbers for the 450-plus audience.

    "We do different cabarets each time. It's a great opportunity for the dancers to sing and others to do solos, group numbers or duets together," Wirick added. "The upside to WICKED is that people leave the show feeling good; we impact the energy of the cities and they are so happy to have us."

    During breaks in the concert, Taylor and Wayne Schroder, who plays Witch Elphaba's father, were co-auctioneers for some priceless WICKED auction experiences. In a special appearance at the benefit, Mary Kate Morrissey, who plays lead character Elphaba, drove up the bids for "Brunch with the Witches" (herself and Ginna Claire Mason as Glinda) at the Hudson Café in Detroit as well as a visit backstage to watch Morrissey get "green-ified" for her role. But perhaps the most intense bidding of the night went for a coveted walk-on role for one performance of WICKED.

    "We came to the concert to support St. John's and the Open Hands Pantry. The next thing I knew, my wife was elbowing me to bid," laughed The Rt. Rev. Wendell N. Gibbs, Jr., Bishop Diocesan of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan.

    Gibbs' winning bid earned him a costumed appearance onstage for two production numbers and an unforgettable backstage experience with two house seats for his wife, Karlah, and a friend to watch Gibbs' Broadway debut.

    "Everyone was so friendly, welcoming and incredibly inclusive. It was like being part of a huge family. I was speechless at times. It was a dream come true," said Gibbs who has only performed onstage twice in his life-- once back in junior high in Amahl and the Night Visitors.

    And the second? Let's just say that WICKED wasn't Gibbs' first trip to Oz. It turns out, he starred as the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz at the Evanston Seabury-Western Theological Seminary.

    Seems like many fans are green with envy.

    TO DONATE, GO TO: www.openhandspantry.org and www.broadwaycares.org

    WICKED continues at the Detroit Opera House through Sept. 2. Tickets may be purchased at www.broadwayindetroit.com or www.ticketmaster.com or by phone at 800-982-2787. The Detroit Opera House is located at 1526 Broadway in Detroit.

    Photo: (center in brown costume) The Rt. Rev. Wendell N. Gibbs, Jr., Bishop Diocesan of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan made his Detroit debut in WICKED after bidding on the experience to benefit Open Hands Food Pantry in Michigan and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Photo Credit: Justin Wirick.

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