Joel Grey is Broadway’s new Wizard of Oz.
The Oscar-winning actor replaces Robert Morse in “Wicked,” the Stephen Schwartz-Winnie Holzman musical set to open Oct. 30.
The Wizard turn would have marked Morse’s first Broadway gig since he took a best actor Tony in 1990 for playing Truman Capote in the one-man play “Tru.” His first Tony came 28 years earlier for creating the role of the ambitious window washer J. Pierpont Finch in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”
“Wicked” producer David Stone said Morse left the production to be with his two young children, who live in Los Angeles. The actor performed in the show this spring during its pre-Broadway run at the Curran Theater in San Francisco. Morse had been a favorite with Frisco audiences; the critics there liked him too.
The San Francisco Chronicle’s Robert Hurwitt, who gave the show a mixed-to-upbeat review, referred to “Morse’s masterfully sweet-voiced dissembler” who delivered a “bright vaudevillian soft-shoe.” Variety‘s Dennis Harvey, who delivered a mixed-to-downbeat notice, called Morse “amiably bumbling.”
Taking an unusual route to Broadway, the “Wicked” production shuttered for two months after its West Coast engagement, closing June 21, and does not go back into rehearsals until Aug. 25.
“But we have not been on vacation,” said Stone. “We have looked at every department, and there has been a lot of rewriting and some redesign and recasting.”
Morse reps the third cast change from the San Francisco ensemble.
William Youmans replaces John Horton as Dr. Dillamond; Christopher Fitzgerald takes over for Kirk McDonald as Boq.
Based on Gregory Maguire’s bestselling novel, “Wicked” tells the story of the early years of “Wizard of Oz” witches Glinda and Elphaba, played by Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel, respectively. The new tuner’s director is Joe Mantello (“Take Me Out”).
Grey made his Broadway debut in 1951 in the short-lived revue “Borscht Capades,” credited as Joel Kaye. His signature role of the Emcee in “Cabaret” won him a Tony in 1967 and an Oscar in 1973. His last appearance on Broadway came in 1996, when the Encores! version of “Chicago” transferred to Broadway, where the musical continues to perform. Grey played Amos Hart.