– By Cate Marquis –
The wonderful Broadway musical WICKED returns to the Fox, bringing back its clever prequel twist to the Wizard of Oz story which explores how the witches came to be good or bad. WICKED is one of those big, splashy, must-see Broadway musical hits that need to be experienced, and one that is equally enjoyable a second or third time around.
The Broadway touring production is back with all the fabulous bells and whistles – the huge sets like the giant dragon looming over the stage, the elaborate moving “Wizard of Oz” head, and the enormous clocks that dominate the backdrops. The story, based on the book of the same name, is marvelously inventive, exploring complicated matters for a musical, of prejudice, politics, friendship and principles.
The story really begins with two young women starting college in Oz. Elphaba (Talia Suskauer) is the daughter of the ruler of Munchkinland but because she was born green, her family finds her an embarrassment. Her father is sending her to college mostly to accompany her wheelchair-bound sister Nessarose (Amanda Fallon Smith), the heir to his post. When a roommate matching goes awry, Elphaba suddenly finds herself sharing rooms not with her sister but with the popular, blonde Galinda (Allison Bailey). Neither are pleased.
Despite being socially-awkward, Elphaba is smart and gifted at magic, a talent quickly recognized by the college’s headmistress, Madame Morrible (Sharon Sachs), who takes her under her wing. Galinda (who later changes her name to Glinda) is also majoring in magic but lacks Elphaba’s natural abilities. The two start out as rivals but an unexpected friendship grows. However, evolving events in a changing Oz soon set them on different paths.
“Some are born wicked, some have wickedness thrush upon them,” Galinda/Glinda intones in her own fractured-speech way when asked about her former schoolmate. It is an example of the clever dialog the play features, along with its impressive staging and songs. WICKED also has sharp social commentary and an engrossing narrative built around friendship, romance, betrayal and intrigue, as it takes us up to the familiar Wizard of Oz story.
WICKED is full of memorable songs, starting with the comic gem “Popular,” sung originally on Broadway by the hilarious Kristin Chenoweth. Idina Menzel, now best known for her singing in “Frozen,” originated the role of Elphaba in Broadway, meaning this is a part that requires a big bold voice. That powerhouse cast is a tough act to follow but Talia Suskauer and Alison Bailey hold their own and do the songs and the roles justice.
The supporting cast shine as well, particularly Cleavant Derricks as the charming con man known as the Wizard of Oz. Sharon Sachs plays a wonderfully villainous Madame Morrible, who is more horrible than she appears at first, and Tom Flynn tugs at our heart as Doctor Dillamond, a kindly professor talking goat who is being silenced. Curt Hansen plays romantic interest Fiyero while
D.J. Plunkett plays Boq, a Munchkin caught in the intrigue.
The staging and dancing are as fabulous as the songs, and the production is full of visual dazzle and “wow” moments. One of those is Allison Bailey’s Galinda/Glinda in her white “good witch” gown riding in her glittering “bubble.” Another one comes late in the show, when Talia Suskauer’s Elphaba rises high above the stage while belting out her signature showstopper.
Whether you have seen it before of not, WICKED is wicked good fun as well as stirring drama, a show well worth braving winter weather to see. WICKED plays the Fox through Dec. 29.
© Cate Marquis