Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Monkeying around


Gregory Haney brings humanity to a 'Wicked' flying monkey

Chistery perches on the throne of Oz in Wicked.Photo by Joan Marcus

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For elaborate Halloween ideas, look no further than the Tony Award-winning costumes in Wicked. The wonderful mega-hit musical, based on Gregory Maguire's novel about the two famous Oz witches as young college roommates, is here for an open run at the Orpheum Theatre. A new Saturday morning tour, Behind the Emerald Curtain, lets fans see costumes and props up close.

Gregory Haney is one of the many ensemble actors who play multiple characters, including the role of Chistery, the main flying monkey. While he speaks only one line, his character's fate marks a pivotal turn of events in the show.

Haney has performed various roles in Wicked in Chicago and with the national touring company.

"I was originally hired as the ribbon dancer in the show," said Haney in an interview. "A week into the show I was asked to understudy Chistery. I understudied, and then a spot opened and they switched me."

Haney's other credits include the Broadway musical Tarzan (as a dancing fern, among other roles) and the 25th anniversary tour of Cats. Asked if he has a special affinity for unusual or non-human roles, Haney said of his roles in Wicked, "It was more that this was another great show that I wanted to be a part of."

As part of a busy ensemble that makes multiple costume and character changes, Haney plays an Ozian and a student (at the university in Oz) in Act One, and remains as Chistery through the show's dramatic second act.

Since he wears a mask as a flying monkey, he doesn't have to undergo elaborate make-up changes. He does have a challenge with his unusual set of wings, which he described as "a kind of springloaded backpack" whose mechanisms were designed by a kite-maker. Haney complimented the efficiency of his gear, which helps, since, as a monkey, he said, "I'm up and down the stage like nobody's business."

As explained in the Behind the Emerald Curtain tour, each costume is either refitted or made new for changing cast members. Haney offered a casting secret: the women playing flying monkeys are the ones who "fly" on harnesses, while the men crawl and climb about the set.

Gregory Haney
Photo: Dirty Sugar Photography

So, what does an actor who daily dons award-winning costumes do for Halloween? Haney said he's been a cat, based on his musical role. For some backstage costume photos, visit Haney's MySpace page at

Before his career as a performer, Haney played football as a tailback in school while performing in musicals. "They were opposite semesters, so I got to do both," he said. "But when I got to college at the University of Arizona, I made the decision to focus on performing rather than sports."

Also a self-taught gymnast, the 27-year-old Haney said his football training taught him how to push his physical limits. Shortly after college, Haney moved to New York City, where between training, he auditioned for a tour of Cats. He got in, and has been working professionally since then.

Like other actors in Wicked, Haney mentioned the advantages of working on the show. "It's such a big family," he said. "Once you're part of it, you're always part of it. If you're in New York, you can transfer to another production, if that option's available. It's nice to be a part of it."

During the days, Haney takes technique classes at Alonzo King's Lines Ballet studio. "I really don't want to stop my training," he said, adding that acting classes also continue to be a part of his life.

And although he's open to any show, Haney said that he recognizes the unique aspects of the production.

"The creative team really did their homework," he said. "I remember being in Chicago, and someone had a copy of one of the original Wizard of Oz books, which showed illustrations of characters that were woven into the show. To see the correlation between the two, and the foundation of this musical; it really makes me happy to know that I'm part of it."

A gown on display at Behind the Emerald Curtain.

You can see some of the costumes and props up close at Behind the Emerald Curtain, a behind-the-scenes tour led by cast members Nicolas Drummard and Jonathan Ritter, each Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St. at 8th. $30. 512- 7770.

The tour is a simple deal. You go into a reception area where three dresses and some costumes and the set design are on display. Charming actor Nicolas Dromard, who plays Fiyero in the show, is joined by ensemble performer Jonathan Ritter, who both share their experiences as performers in Wicked.

In the theatre lobby, a video is shown in several segments that show how the production came to be. (The audio isn't very good in the cavernous, albeit beautiful lobby). Guests are then seated in the theatre while technicians adjust lights onstage, and the actor/hosts tell a few more details and answer fan questions. I say fan, because most in attendance had seen the show more than once.

You don't get to literally go backstage, and the information is a bit perfunctory to anyone who knows a bit about musical theatre. It's the show itself that amazes. But for fans, it's an opportunity to get a closer view of the artistry that makes up this marvelous musical.

You can see some of the costumes and props up close at Behind the Emerald Curtain, a behind-the-scenes tour led by cast members Nicolas Drummard and Jonathan Ritter, each Saturday at 10am at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St. at 8th. $30. 512- 7770.

See Wicked Tue-Sat 8pm. Wed, Sat, Sun 2pm. Sun 7:30pm. $30-$99. 1192 Market St. at 8th. 512-7770.

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