Every Christmas, Marie Eife would beg her mom to go to New York City to see a Broadway show. The Philadelphia area native finally got that wish during her junior year of high school when her mom surprised her with tickets to see “Wicked.” While seated in the third row of the Gershwin Theatre, Eife recalled her reaction to seeing Shoshana Bean, who played the role of Elphaba at the time, sing “The Wizard and I.”
“I turned to my mom and I was like, ‘I’m going to be Elphaba one day,’” Eife said.
Over the years, Eife auditioned for “Wicked” several times and built up her resume by taking on roles in productions such as “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Fame,” “My Fair Lady” and “Legally Blonde.” Then, on her birthday in 2019, she finally booked a role as understudy for the role of Elphaba and a role in the ensemble for the “Wicked” national tour.
Through Nov. 26, Eife will return to her Philly roots when she and the “Wicked” national tour company defy gravity at the Academy of Music. The performer calls performing at this Kimmel Cultural Campus venue a “full-circle moment,” recalling how she was introduced to theater by watching productions of “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker” at this location. Now, she is trading her seat in the audience for numerous fabulous costumes on stage — and perhaps a broomstick if she gets to don the witch’s hat as Elphaba.
“It’s so emotional,” Eife said. “And I’m so grateful knowing that if you really put in the hard work, and you put your mind to it, you can achieve what you want to. And this is just an example of that. All the people that helped me get to this point in my career are going to be seeing the show at some point. So I get to say, ‘Thank you.’ But it’s also cool to come back as a queer woman while living in the city as an adult. I was in the city as a young kid, watching the ballets. But now I get to be in the city as a working adult, figuring out how I want to be in this chapter of my life in Philly.”
“Wicked” centers on Galinda and Elphaba — who would go on to become Glinda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West, respectively, in “The Wizard of Oz” — both before and after Dorothy Gale lands in Oz. Among the themes the show handles is “being true to yourself,” Eife said. The character of Elphaba, in particular, deals with feelings of alienation due to her green skin and getting pushed down by oppressive authority figures. Eife said this is why LGBTQ+ audiences identify with “Wicked.”
“I can really relate to that as a queer woman,” she said. “People are trying to take away our marriage rights and [we’re] fighting against that and standing up for our rights. And that’s what Elphaba is about. She’s advocating for all the people who, quote unquote, don’t belong. And so to be able to play that role in a time like now is pretty iconic. And I feel like I want to bring that to the table.”
At the end of Act I, Elphaba sings “Defying Gravity,” an empowering anthem where the lead character speaks out against her oppressors.
“[That song is saying] ‘I’m going to be seen. I’m going to be heard. We are going to be seen. We are going to be heard.’ I feel like I just want to wave the rainbow flag at that point,” Eife said with a laugh. “But [I also want to wave] a lot of flags. I want to wave for the independence of everyone in that moment, not just the queer community. It’s pertinent to me specifically for that, but I feel like it could go a lot of different directions depending on who’s playing the role, which is really cool.”
The “Wicked” national tour company will perform through Nov. 26 at the Academy of Music, 240 S Broad St. Visit kimmelculturalcampus.org for tickets and more information.