Play:        “Wicked”

Group:        Touring Company

Venue:        Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand

Dates:        Through July 11

Tickets:    From $33; contact 314-534-1111 or  HYPERLINK "http://www.metrotix.com" www.metrotix.com

Story:    Before Dorothy unexpectedly landed in the magical Land of Oz, it was a charming, sophisticated place where humans and animals lived in peaceful co-existence, sharing their knowledge and talents for the benefit of all.  Times began to change, however, as sinister elements in the human population began to enforce their will upon others.

Into this world are born a beautiful, blonde and ambitious girl named Galinda and an intelligent, curious and starkly, emerald-skinned lass named Elphaba.  Beyond her green skin, Elphaba has carried the emotional baggage of caring for her invalid sister Nessarose, whose mother died in childbirth in part due to the anxiety their father had fearing another green baby in his brood.  As teenagers Elphaba and the petulant Nessarose arrive at school, they are separated by the imperious Madame Morrible, who pairs Elphaba and Galinda as roommates.

Madame Morrible discerns the powerful sorcery talents of Elphaba and plans to cultivate them.  However, when Elphaba comes to the aid of the lone remaining animal professor, the ostracized goat Doctor Dillamond, she is branded an enemy by the corrupt government of the Wizard.  The “Wicked Witch of the West” flees into seclusion, while “Glinda, the Good Witch of the North,” seeks to help her friend clear her name, even as the two of them vie for the affections of a dashing prince named Fiero.

Highlights:    Back for its third visit to St. Louis, “Wicked” has broken box office records in city after city.  Currently it boasts eight productions worldwide, including two North American tours as well as productions on Broadway and in San Francisco.  It’s based on an imaginative “prequel” to “The Wizard of Oz” by novelist Gregory Maguire that tells the back story of the two most famous witches of Oz.  Music and lyrics are by Stephen Schwartz (“Pippin,” “Godspell”) and the book is by Winnie Holzman (“My So-Called Life,” “Thirtysomething”).

Other Info:    The media-night performance at The Fox was virtually sold out and it appeared that perhaps 70 percent of the audience was female.  That’s perhaps as much to do with the show’s theme of friendship between two young women as it is with Maguire’s fanciful take on a true American classic and what might have occurred before Dorothy inadvertently showed up in the mythical kingdom of Oz.

    This current touring production is a technical masterpiece, featuring an array of imposing sets designed by Eugene Lee that draw heavily from a ‘clock’ motif, including a looming timepiece in the background.  Susan Hilferty’s lavish costumes run the gamut from the dominant white and black of the young witches to the colorful garb adorning munchkins and flying monkeys.  Everything is lit through the dazzling technicolor design of Kenneth Posner, highlighted by the show-stopping Act I finale’s performance in a rainbow of cascading colors.

    A most unusual occurrence took place on opening night, when Vicki Noon, who stars as Elphaba, became ill during the first act and was replaced by standby Anne Brummel.  Impressively, both Noon and Brummel sparkled in their respective performances and the show never seemed to miss a beat, particularly as Brummel soared above the stage on the eye-popping “Defying Gravity” Act I closer.

    Natalie Daradich shows fine comic instincts as Glinda, both in her vapid speech patterns and propensity for amusing physical comedy.  Noon also shows comic aplomb, while Daradich, Noon and Brummel all displayed strong singing ability.

    Marilyn Caskey plays a fine villainess as the scheming Madame Morrible, although her malapropisms grow wearisome.  Don Amendolia combines nastiness and affability as the Machiavellian Wizard and Zach Hanna is the munchkin Boq, who pines for Glinda but is loved instead by Nessarose.  Kristine Reese plays the self-pitying Nessarose while Chris Peluso is solid as party boy Fiyero, who matures through his love for Elphaba.

    Director Joe Mantello orchestrates the cast and crew of this production as smoothly as a well-maintained timepiece, and William David Brohn, Stephen Oremus and Wayne Cilento are the talents behind the orchestration, music supervision and musical staging, respectively.  While the music and lyrics often are clever and creative, at other times they can be mundane and maudlin, an unfortunate combination.  Schwartz’s score tends to be a bit ballad-heavy to its detriment, although “I’m Not That Girl” captures the mood of the show expertly.

    It appears that this third visit of “Wicked” to The Fox will be every bit as successful as its predecessors, as the enthusiastic media night audience will attest.

Rating:    A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.

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