Wicked, the beloved musical that tells the origin story of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, opened on Broadway in 2003, but went dark for 18 months during the COVID pandemic, along with the rest of New York’s theater district. Now, Wicked is back, and the cast includes Sam Gravitte ’17 playing Fiyero, the witch’s leading man.
Gravitte’s run began Feb. 25, 2020, just before COVID began to wreak havoc in New York City. “There were conversations and whispers and media coverage of coronavirus and what it was going to mean and was it real,” Gravitte remembers. “I had done two and a half weeks of my contract before the world exploded.” On March 12, Broadway turned off the lights.
The hiatus was supposed to last a month. “The longest Broadway had shut down in modern times had been two days after 9/11,” Gravitte says. “Then a month turned into three months and then eventually turned into a year, and then it turned into more than that. It was a kind of gradual descent into the expanse of time that it became.”
With the unexpected downtime, Gravitte leaned into reflection. “I think there was no other option over the course of the pandemic than to go inwards. The other option was catatonia and there was plenty of that, plenty of lying on the couch. But I think ultimately it was a really fertile time for me in terms of my relationship to myself and my creativity,” he says. “I exited that chapter of my life with a much more intentional sense of what I want and how I want it.”
With parents in the industry — his mom is Tony-winning actress Debbie Gravitte and dad is actor Beau Gravitte — Gravitte always knew he wanted to enter the family business. But he also says that his childhood, along with that of his siblings, was spent pursuing his many interests. “My parents were deliberate about encouraging life in its fullness outside of performing,” he says. Gravitte took up lacrosse in eighth grade; in high school he was recruited to join Princeton’s team, and he played throughout college.
“People have said it many times, but theater has survived many plagues. There’s just no version of this world without theater.” — Sam Gravitte ’17
While at Princeton he also poured himself into theater, and his senior thesis was a production of the musical Once.
After graduation, Gravitte moved to New York to pursue theater professionally, and six months later he was in the national tour of Wicked as an understudy for Fiyero. After a year on tour, he made his Broadway debut, also understudying for Fiyero. A few more months, and a few other shows later, Gravitte was offered the role full time. “Wicked is the show that’s kind of reared me in many ways,” he says. “I’m really grateful to it.”
Throughout the pandemic closure, Gravitte kept the faith that Broadway and the show would return. “People have said it many times, but theater has survived many plagues,” he says. “There’s just no version of this world without theater.” Word finally came that the show was reopening, and the cast reunited to rehearse. “We all got back in the building and sang through the show … — ‘surreal’ is such a buzzword these days, but it really was,” he says. “Just to hear that kind of music again coming out of live humans surrounding you was a really special experience.”
Wicked reopened Sept. 14, and Gravitte’s parents were there, seeing him play Fiyero on Broadway for the first time. “Reopening was like playing Madison Square Garden just in terms of the energy, the wall of noise, and love,” he says. “That’s something I’ll hold on to forever.”