Story: Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, rules the Land of Oz from her perch in a bubble that hovers over the kingdom. Before Glinda was ruler, however, she was a popular student at Shiz University. She describes in flashback her friendship with another young student at that time, Elphaba, who came to be known as the Wicked Witch of the West.
Elphaba was ostracized for her green skin, a condition caused by a strange potion given to her mother by a traveling salesman who impregnated her. Elphaba’s father, the governor of Munchkinland, was horrified by the sight of his daughter, so much so that he took extraordinary precautions when his wife became pregnant again. Those extreme measures led to his second daughter, Nessarose, being born prematurely and confined later to a wheelchair.
When Nessarose went away to Shiz University, her father ordered Elphaba to accompany and care for her sister. Elphaba’s magical powers, however, are noticed by Madame Morrible, head of the university and a woman who can control weather. Morrible tells her friend, the Wizard of Oz, about Elphaba’s abilities. The two conspire to use Elphaba to repress the Munchkins and also to subjugate the animals of the kingdom, who previously have had the power of speech, including Doctor Dillamond, a goat and the lone remaining animal on Shiz’s faculty.
Blonde, ditzy Galinda and intelligent, passionate Elphaba form an unlikely friendship that is tested by their mutual attraction to a handsome student named Fiyero. Galinda, who changes her name to Glinda, is also hopelessly admired by a Munchkin named Boq, whom she convinces to care for Nessarose instead, leading to further romantic and tragic complications. So, who is truly wicked in the Land of Oz?
Highlights: Since its inception in 2003, Wicked has broken numerous box office records locally, nationally and internationally. It continues to draw huge audiences on Broadway, where it has surpassed 3,700 performances to date. It set box office records at The Fox as well on all three of its earlier national tours. Now, the fourth road show is playing once again to huge crowds at The Fox as a holiday offering that underscores the enduring popularity of this work.
Other Info: The Wicked phenomenon started with the publication of the novel by Gregory Maguire in 1995, which of course took its inspiration from the classic story by L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, as well as the landmark 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz. Maguire’s tale, which is set before, during and after Dorothy’s arrival, tells the back story of the Wicked Witch of the West from a vastly different viewpoint.
Composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz then freely adapted Maguire’s novel into the wildly successful musical version, collaborating with author Winnie Holzman, who penned the script.
The musical story by now is exceedingly familiar to its legion of fans, who likely will be entertained by this lively and clearly articulated version now on display. The sets by Eugene Lee, marked by large, internal clock mechanisms, a sprawling screen that features a menacing array of flying monkeys and a giant head that spews out the Wizard’s pomposities, remain impressive, as do the dazzling costumes designed by Susan Hilferty, Tom Wilson’s wig and hair design, the arresting lighting designed by Kenneth Posner, Chic Silber’s special effects and some spectacular projection work by Elaine McCarthy.
Schwartz’s lush music is given a stirring reading by music director and conductor Valerie Gebert, who leads a top-rate orchestra that combines touring musicians with several local players, with orchestrations contributed by William David Brohn and musical supervision courtesy of Stephen Oremus.
The wide array of endearing dance numbers are staged by Wayne Cilento and associate choreographer Corinne McFadden Herrera. The entire, three-hour production is managed seamlessly by director Joe Mantello, who keeps the often convoluted tale from dragging by pulling together the talents of his technical team as well as the players on stage in continual motion.
That cast includes stellar work by Christine Dwyer as Elphaba and Jeanna De Waal as Glinda. The latter is expert at conveying Glinda’s butchery of the English language with humorous effect while also showing her evolution from vacuous airhead to a sadder but wiser ruler. As Elphaba, Dwyer is equally convincing bringing the ‘different’ girl’s indomitable spirit and fight for justice to the fore.
Understudy Michael Drolet admirably filled in for Michael Wartella as Boq, the Munchkin whose tortured heart leads to a surprising and familiar transformation, on the media night performance of Wicked, and Zarah Mahler is effective in the role of the unrequited Nessarose.
Gina Ferrall and Paul Kreppel have fun as the piece’s villainous pair, Madame Morrible and the Wizard of Oz. Billy Harrigan Tighe is a handsome and valiant Fiyero, moving his character from mindless campus heart-throb to a young man whose brain is tested in most unusual ways. Jay Russell is fine as the brilliant but tortured Doctor Dillamond.
Wicked remains very much an acquired taste, perhaps best loved by aficionados of the original Oz book and movie, neither of which has never been on my own personal list of favorites, albeit timeless classics. No matter. The cast of this production sings quite convincingly and acts most impressively, elements fans of the show will doubtless appreciate.
Group: Touring Company
Venue: Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand
Dates: Through January 6
Tickets: From $38; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Joan Marcus