Gregory Maguire, Author of "Wicked," Launches The Elphaba Fund and Looks Back on Famed Broadway Musical

By Michael Gioia
October 30, 2013

Gregory Maguire, author of "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West" — the novel that inspired the hit Stephen Schwartz-Winnie Holzman musical — recently announced the establishment of the nonprofit foundation The Elphaba Fund; he chatted with Playbill.com about the foundation as well as Wicked, which celebrates its tenth anniversary on Broadway Oct. 30.



"I've been planning [The Elphaba Fund] for about five years, and it's just formalizing right now," explained Maguire, who created the foundation with his husband, painter Andy Newman. "The documents are actually still being drawn up by my lawyer, but it's far enough along — in terms of thinking and also funding — that it seems legitimate to announce this."

The Elphaba Fund, which will be registered with the government by the end of 2013, is dedicated to issues of women's and children's health and education — particularly in the third world — arts and literacy education, and environmental causes. A portion of Maguire's profit from the hit musical will fund various charities.

"As some people know, I spent some part of my life in an orphanage because my mother died in childbirth when I was born — just like Nessarose's mother [does in the musical] — and also, so did my children," said Maguire. "Each of my three children were given up for adoption and spent some time in children's homes… So, [The Elphaba Fund] is partly to do more for other kids that I can't actually adopt and carry home… The second thing — the education part — is particularly directed towards literacy, libraries and literature education. Wicked comes as a result of my deep engagement with the literature of childhood — the literature of L. Frank Baum and 'The [Wonderful] Wizard of Oz' and with the movie literature of the 1939 film. It was sort of the spontaneous combustion of those two miracles against my childish consciousness that was the termination of 'Wicked.'

"Literature, when it's at its best, is art, and art affects children… so that's why I support literacy efforts."

Idina Menzel
Photo by Joan Marcus
Thus far, Maguire and Newman have contributed funds to young women, striving to meet education tuition costs, in Nairobi; literacy efforts in Guatemala City; orphanages and women's college dormitories in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; A Broader Way Foundation, established in 2010 by Wicked stars Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs; and more.

"I take a great deal of proprietary glee in the fact that even the word Elphaba suggests certain things to people who see the play and read the books — about an inclination to want to do something good with whatever magical or fiduciary talents you might have," said Maguire. "It seems like a way of honoring all those people who have taken Elphaba to their hearts." Maguire explained that The Elphaba Fund may outlive him and would continue as long as the musical is bringing in profits.

As for Wicked's big birthday, the author will return to Oz for approximately the 50th time Oct. 30, and his last-minute preparations included a haircut for the big event.

"One of the reasons — I was joking to my son — I went to get the hair cut at the back of my neck is [because] the first time Idina Menzel walked onto the stage in San Francisco and sang 'The Wizard and I,' a hair stood up at the back of my neck, and it has never sat down for ten years," he said with a laugh. "So now I have to keep it cropped short because I look as if I'm sitting in an electric socket!"

Maguire added that Wicked — a story he created as a comment on pop culture and a riff on the magical Land of Oz — has "actually become a part of popular culture now." He has also had several inquires to adapt his 1999 novel "Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister," a retelling of "Cinderella," into a musical or opera.

"I've launched a little paper airplane," he said, "and now it's like Starship Enterprise."

For more on Wicked's tenth anniversary, click here. To read the Playbill interview with original stars Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel, click here.

(Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)