Broadway’s Michael Wartella is bringing “Wicked Unplugged” Home to the Berkshires
by Gail Burns
Inspired by his Berkshire childhood as the step-son of musician David Grover, Michael Wartella is bringing his cast-mates from the national touring company of “Wicked” home to Massachusetts for an acoustic benefit concert for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS on Monday, November 19, at 7 pm. The company is currently performing at Proctors in Schenectady, NY.
“I grew up in the Berkshire folk music scene with my stepdad and Arlo Guthrie, so it was a no brainer for me to produce something here in the County,” Wartella explained. “This concert will feature ‘Wicked’ cast members singing hits and classics from all different musical genres, as well as a few songs from the show, in an acoustic environment.”
Wartella’s mother, Kathy Jo Grover, is directing the Undermountain Elementary School’s fall musical production, and the cast of that show will make an appearance at the concert along with David Grover to sing a very special number.
“Growing up here I took advantage of every theatrical opportunity that came my way,” Wartella said. “I was involved with Shakespeare & Company and the Barrington Stage Youth Theatre. But when I went into New York City with some friends of mine in high school to see ‘RENT’ that was the tipping point for me – the moment I said ‘I want to do this for a career.’”
After graduating from Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington Wartella studied for two years at the Circle In the Square Theatre School in New York City and then started pounding the pavement auditioning. His persistence, talent, and hard work have paid off with a variety of acting jobs around the country, including stints at the Denver Center Theatre Company, where he originated the title role in a new stage adaptation of John Irving’s “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” and the American Repertory Theatre (ART) in Cambridge, MA.
Last winter brought him a chance to fulfill his high school dream and perform in “RENT” off-Broadway, where he got to cover many leading roles, including Roger and Angel. Playing Boq in “Wicked,” the role in which Berkshire favorite Randy Harrison made his Broadway debut, on this national tour is another dream come true for Wartella. The company is four months into their nine month tour, which takes them next to Syracuse, NY, and then all around the state of Florida in the winter months.
Organizing this concert and performing here has been a great opportunity to see family, friends, and old teachers, and to say thank to everyone who helped me on my way,” Wartella said with affection. An old friend, Travis Daly, is the Arts Coordinator for the Southern Berkshire Regional School District and manager of the Consolati Arts Center, where Barrington Stage had its home during the years Wartella was active with them.
But Wartella’s heart is with his four-year-old son in New York City. “Being on tour and away from him is hard,” he sighed. “We make time for me to get to see him somehow every two weeks or so.”
“Every tour does benefits for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS* twice a year,” Wartella explained. “Not only does this organization assist men women and children fighting AIDS, but it also supports the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative and this year we’re involved in providing Hurricane Sandy Relief as well.” In its seven years on the road, the company has raised over $2 million in donations for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and local AIDS service organizations all over the country.
“Wicked Unplugged” is an opportunity for “Wicked” tour cast members to step out of their roles in the musical and kick up their heels performing some of their favorite non-Ozian material. Wartella will be joined on stage by other members of the large national touring company. While the cast for the benefit roster has not yet been set, it is expected that among the Wicked contingent traveling to Sheffield will be Jeanna De Waal (Glinda), Christine Dwyer (Elphaba) and Paul Kreppel (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz), along with other members of the company.
The National Touring Company of “Wicked” will host “Wicked Unplugged” at the Thomas A. Consolati Performing Arts Center (located at Mt. Everett Regional High School, 491 Berkshire School Road) in Sheffield, MA on Monday November 19, at 7:00 p.m. General admission is a $25 donation ($20 with student ID) available at the door, or tickets on sale in the main office of Mt. Everett High School. A limited amount of $50 VIP seats are also available by calling (405) 808-9064. All proceeds benefit BC/EFA, and admission donations are tax deductible.
In addition to the performance, there will be a brief live auction including an opportunity to join the company backstage at Proctors Theatre:
-A backstage opportunity to watch the “Greening of Elphaba” complete with two house seats for a weekend performance of “Wicked.”
“Wicked” is now playing at Proctors and runs through Sunday, November 25. Tickets are available at Proctors Box Office, 432 State Street, Schenectady, NY, 12305; 518-346-6204 or online at proctors.org.
* Shakespeare & Company’s www.shakespeare.org annual production of “The Santaland Diaries,” running November 30-December 30, also takes up a collection to benefit this organization.