By Rhea Mahbubani
4:35 PM PST, February 14, 2013
Napoleon Gladney is no stranger to wearing several hats.
A tree, emotions, the wind, a prince, a vampire, and even music notes — these are just a few roles that the Los Angeles-based professional dancer has enacted.
Now, as part of the ensemble of the popular Broadway musical "Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz," Gladney plays multiple parts in the same production, spinning in and out of gear as a student, towns person and flying monkey.
"'Wicked's' music, costumes, light and scenery are all phenomenal and can stand on their own," Gladney, 25, said. "And so, when you put everything together, it forms a great story with underlying ideas of friendship, first impressions, not judging people, the concept of good versus evil and questioning authority.
"There are several different themes that can be pulled from 'Wicked,' which I think speak to people individually, allowing every audience member to have a unique experience."
The production is coming to the Segerstrom Hall next week for its third engagement. The show's earlier runs in 2006 and 2011 were greeted by nearly full houses.
"'Wicked' is a story with a big heart," said center President Terry Dwyer. "First off, there is a really clear and compelling story at the core of it. The music is delightful, and the roles are great for standout performers. Our audiences found it thrilling and responded to it with tremendous enthusiasm."
"Wicked" is based on the 1995 Gregory Maguire novel "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West." With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, the play centers on the friendship of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, and Glinda, the Good Witch of the North.
Trained in choreography and ballet, jazz, modern, hip hop, contemporary and African dance, Gladney, who recalls always being on the move even as a child, joined the company in 2010.
"Anything I could see, whether it was a music video or ice-skating, I'd reenact the movements in my living room and backyard," Gladney said. "Even as a 5-year-old child, I demonstrated a deep love for dance."
"Dancing is a fantastic art form that allows me to express myself and tell a story using my body," said Gladney, who draws inspiration from master choreographer Alvin Ailey. "The training that goes into being a dancer and the work that you put into it is very unique, because that is what and who you are all the time."
The time spent with the "Wicked" team has instilled in him the importance of staying in tune with the "present moment."
"Being in the now and enjoying the current moment that you are having with the people that surround you and being able to revel in the choices that you've made is so powerful," said Gladney, whose quirky personality is also reflected through his fascination with shoes. Currently, he has 17 pairs of shoes — a colorful and stylistic kaleidoscope — tucked away among his belongings.
The Segerstrom Center has not only been a venue for Gladney to teach and attend dance classes, but was also where another member of the "Wicked" cast, Brenda Hamilton, was influenced by plays at what was then called the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
"When I was a little girl, my parents took me to see shows [there]," Hamilton said. "Every time I went to the theater, I dreamed of being up on that stage."
After launching her career as a 16-year-old in a "Hercules" parade in Disneyland, she has been part of the ensemble of shows such as "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," "A Chorus Line," "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "Some Like It Hot." A stickler for warming up vocally and physically for about a half hour before going on stage, she will also serve as the understudy for Nessarose, Elphaba's physically disabled younger sister.
"I love telling stories through characters," said Hamilton, who dreams of one day acting as Fantine in "Les Miserables." "When the story is too important to be spoken, it is sung; when there are no words, the story is told through dance. I love the heightened reality that characters live in."
Hooked on being onstage since her first ballet performance when she was four, Hamilton said her dreams are "unchartered," but always big.
Gladney is similarly ambitious but plans to end his "Wicked" whirlwind March 10 — a poetic coming full circle close to home, since his mother lives in Costa Mesa.
"I'm ready for a change," he said. "I'm ready to have an apartment again. I'm ready to get my stuff out of boxes and storage and to stop living out of a suitcase for a second. I'm looking forward to a bit of normalcy, as well as new projects."
If You Go
Where: Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 2 p.m. Feb. 21; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, from Feb. 20 to March 17.
Cost: Tickets start at $44.50
Information: (714) 556-2787 or http://www.scfta.org