Everyone deserves a chance to fly, and one Kansas City, Missouri family is taking that quite literally. Courtney Caves Perry and her family have been putting on traveling performances from hit Broadway musical Wicked for neighbors and residents who have been watching from their front yards since late April.
“In our family, we try to make sure to always be on the lookout for the helpers and lovers,” says Perry, arts education director for Kansas City’s Arts Asylum. “We are pretty lucky to create magic as our professions so it’s not much of a difference to do it even when we can physically be with one another.”
The performances are gaining major attention thanks to Perry’s daughter, Isabel, who came up with the idea of wanting to actually fly just like Wicked lead character Elphaba, does in the real versions of the show.
“Isabel had a friend who was having a birthday parade and they wanted everyone in costume,” Perry tells Yahoo Life. “So after trying to figure out what costume she would wear, she proclaimed (with less than 12 hours to prep) that she wanted to be Elphaba, but only if we could make her fly.”
Luckily, Isabel’s sky-is-the-limit vision was able to come to life.
“Since my husband is a theater professional and we own a theatrical supply company, we went to his shop, set up a rig and then Iz decided if we were going to do this we should go around to other friends and share it with them also,” Perry says.
Katie Gilchrist, a director, producer and theater manager in Kansas City and friend of the Perry family for nearly 20 years, has seen the performance in action three times.
“I got a text from Courtney the morning that they’d be heading out,” Gilchrist says of the first performance. “We waited outside for them to come down the street. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I was jumping up and down, clapping and sobbing and laughing the whole time.”
Gilchrist posted a video of the performance on her Twitter, which features Isabel dressed up as Elphaba getting hoisted into the sky as one the show’s most beloved and powerful numbers, “Defying Gravity,” plays.
“We are certainly a musical theater family, so Wicked has always been a staple in the house,” Perry tells Yahoo Life. “I think it has wonderful messages of hope while exploring ‘good versus evil’ in that everyone has a story to tell. We all battle dark and light within ourselves, so ‘Defying Gravity’ was an easy choice In the message to never let anyone hold you down. It’s one of our bucket-list musicals we haven’t gotten to see on stage yet.”
Gilchrist says that the Perry family’s adaptation of the number is like watching “a big dream on a small scale.”
“It is seeing humanity soar,” she says. “It is believing in Peter Pan. It is, truly, and without hyperbole, one of the most honest expressions of joy I’ve seen.”
Unsurprisingly, the public response to the performance has also been paramount.
“It’s been crazy to watch, really,” Perry tells Yahoo Life. “We knew our friends would love it, but had just no idea how many people would watch the videos and laugh and cry with us. I know it sounds strange, but when you do this kind of stuff for a living, you forget how unusual it is to show up with a fly rig in the middle of a neighborhood. We’re so happy and honored it’s made so many people smile.”
Gilchrist jokes that watching the family work together as a unit is like watching “The Partridge Family with way more green makeup” and shares that “people have been responding with such glee and awe” to the family’s performances.
“I was inspired by Isabel’s vision of Wicked,” Gilchrist says. “‘Everyone deserves a chance to fly’ — it’s that sentence that really helps release the soul sadness we’ve been carrying during this … We need the storytellers to help us all remember.”
Life in quarantine has been all but quiet for Perry and her husband, Alex, whose jobs in the arts were both suspended early on due to the newly enforced limitations in gathering sizes.
The adjustment to enter isolation has felt a bit like whiplash for Kansas City residents, as Perry says that “shifting from winning the Super Bowl and being in a parade of nearly a million people at the top of February to isolation by mid-March was kind of crazy” and credits local leadership, including Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, being “amazing” throughout the process of transition.
For Perry, being able to put on performances with her family has been her way of giving back to the Kansas City community.
“The arts are at their core, about connection,” she says. “When you’re stuck at home, people look to television or movies or music to remind us that we aren’t alone. The intimacy of creating art comes out in every aspect of what we do and creates a connection like nothing else can. So even though we aren’t sure about the fate of our profession in these ever-changing times, we will keep creating and that connection will survive.”
Isabel Perry tells Yahoo Life that “getting to fly was definitely the best part” of playing Elphaba in the shows, but it looks like the future star also has aspirations to fly outside of the theater.
“I have been raised in the theater and I love the music and dancing and being in the audience,” she says. “But I also want to be an art teacher and run a puppy daycare.”
Perry tells us that Isabel is involved in charity work with The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, helps with the local Drag Queen Storytime in Kansas City and even runs a kindness club at school.
“Isabel is a pretty special kid,” Perry says. “I know most parents believe that, and all kids are magical in their own ways, but I’ll never know what I did to deserve her … she’s always a star in my world so this time, she was green while doing the only thing she knows how to do, which is spread joy and love.”
The entire Kansas City community is grateful for what the Perry family and Isabel have created out of a vision and a desire to be the light for others.
“It’s just a little girl who wanted her daddy to help her fly,” Gilchrist says. “The Perrys are helping, and it’s a joy to see.”