‘Wicked’s’ Etai BenShlomo talks with Daily Cal before show arrives in San Jose

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Previously a member of the Broadway cast, Etai BenShlomo has reprised his role as Boq in the national tour of “Wicked,” which touches down at Broadway San Jose on Aug. 27. BenShlomo spoke with The Daily Californian in a phone interview last week about his character, experiences with the show and the future of musicals everywhere.

Daily Californian: What has your experience been like in this production of “Wicked”?

Etai BenShlomo: My experience with “Wicked” has been a gift. It was my first big job out of college. The first time I performed “Wicked” was in San Francisco; I did the last eight months of the show. Once a show closes, you’re never sure if you’re going to work with (the team) again, but thankfully, “Wicked” has kept hiring me back. It has been a blessing for me, because for an actor, it’s an ideal job. It’s a show that’s going to be around for years and years. As far as salary goes, it’s a very well-paying job, and it’s the most popular musical in the world … It’s really hard to do the same exact show eight times a week. I’ve probably done over 900 performances of “Wicked;” some people have done more. One of the things I think that keeps you going on tour is the new environment, the new city, new audiences. Keeps it fresh.

DC: What’s it like working with this cast in particular?

EB: “Wicked” is like an ever-changing beast. People are coming in and out all the time; I only joined this company three weeks ago. In such a physically demanding show, people get injured or call in sick, so it’s actually rare that you’ll have the same group of people on stage more than a few nights in a row. With new people, it brings a new energy to the show. This group has been fantastic; it really feels like a family. And that’s how it should be when touring. You’re going to cities where you don’t know anyone, so we go out together and explore the town and go on hikes. It feels like a tight group, which I love.

DC: Tell me about your character. Is he a good or bad character? Are there good or bad characters within Wicked?

EB: What’s cool about “Wicked” is that, despite the title, the show is actually about how good and evil are shades of gray. All of these characters are very human. Boq, in particular, has a kind of transformation throughout the show. He starts out as the person with the biggest heart in Oz; he’s so in love with Galinda but undergoes a very stark change. It’s impossible to define him.

DC:What kind of responses do you receive from audiences?

EB: I’m always most moved by seeing the kids’ reactions. For a lot of people who (act), the reason we do so is to inspire people, especially young people. When I see a kid’s face lighting up, when they’re just so moved, that’s very fulfilling for me. Maybe that means that kid will want to go see another show. You’re helping to keep theater alive in a way.

DC: Do you have a favorite moment to perform in the show?

EB: In Act 2, I have a big scene called the governor’s mansion scene — it’s the first time you see a whole other side of Boq. This sweet little guy is suddenly showing this other side of himself, and I like going through that change; it’s really a kind of intense scene.

DC: What can be said to college students about live theater and particularly musicals, which maybe have fallen out of popularity?

EB: Since shows like “Glee” and “Smash” and “The Sound of Music” with Carrie Underwood, I think musicals are coming back. Broadway’s sales are higher than ever in history. The thing with musicals, especially for college students, is that at heart, (they’re) an American artform. (Musicals) started in the (West), and (they’re) an important contribution that America has made to culture.

Also, there’s nothing like the feeling of being live in a theater with the actors. There’s an old saying that anything can happen in theater, and it’s true. In a live audience, you’re seeing something that is happening right in front of you. To me, there’s no other feeling like it. I think that’s an important experience for college students to have.

Any suggestions or advice for people who don’t usually go to shows? Why should they go?

EB: Musicals aren’t lame!

“Wicked” will run at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts from Aug. 27 to Sept. 14. Tickets are available online at broadwaysanjose.com.

Contact Anne Ferguson at [email protected].