‘Schleppy’ Canton native tours as Wizard in ‘Wicked’



No one knows there’s no place like home more than Canton native and veteran stage, television and movie actor Lee Wilkof, who returns to Northeast Ohio as The Wizard in the national touring production of “Wicked,” which comes back to Cleveland from Feb. 6 through March 9 at the State Theatre.

“Of all the cities I’m going to be doing for the rest of my stint, Cleveland is the longest at five weeks,” said Wilkof, calling from a tour stop in Cincinnati. “So of all the places I’m going, I’m looking forward to that the most. I’ll be able to reconnect with people.”

This isn’t Wilkof’s first introduction to “Wicked.” Back in 2002 he was one of the first actors to actually workshop the show. This is where producers hire actors to stage loose productions in order to see if the show has promise.

“Everyone knew it was going to be big,” Wilkof said. “I did it with the original two girls — Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel — and just listening to those two girls sing, I knew it was going to be huge. But they wanted to use a name; they went with [Northeast Ohio native] Joel Grey for The Wizard.”

Even though he was offered the job to replace Grey on Broadway, Wilkof was busy with other projects. Over the past 15 years he’s appeared in five Broadway shows, and received a Tony Award nomination for “Kiss Me, Kate.”

Then this past summer his agent caught wind of an upcoming opening in The Wizard role. One thing led to another and now the 1969 Glenwood High School graduate and diehard Cleveland Browns fan is The Wizard. More importantly, he’s coming home for more than a month.

“I’m enjoying doing the show very much; I like the role of The Wizard,” said Wilkof, who spent the ’80s in Hollywood as a television actor (“Doogie Howser,” “Night Court,” “Major Dad,” “Matlock” and more). “Granted, being on tour is a little challenging for an old guy like me, and jumping into a production that’s been on the road for two years is a little challenging too, but I do like doing the show.”

Lately, Wilkof has been concentrating on feature films, including a role in the recent independent movie “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” and four more movies due out later this year. While he said his current love is in film, he acknowledges there’s something special about finally being cast in “Wicked,” which has become one of Broadway’s biggest smash hits.

“‘Wicked’ is a really exciting spectacle and it obviously speaks to a lot of people because it’s packed every night, and it’s a cool show,” Wilkof said. “The Wizard is just incredible. He’s only on for 18 minutes. They talk about The Wizard and then he shows up and he’s this schleppy little guy.”

So when Broadway and feature film producers are looking for a schlepper, they know who to call?

“Well, I am a schleppy guy,” Wilkof laughed. “That’s probably how I get everything in life, just by schlepping along.”