Okay. Wicked. I loved the cast recording. Didn’t really wanna see the show – just because everybody else loved it. Remember Titanic? Yeah… like that. Wicked is one of those shows that has been hyped… not just hyped, but hyped to death. I usually avoid hype like the plague. Still haven’t seen Titanic, still write an essay haven’t seen Braveheart, still haven’t seen Phantom of the Opera. So what I’m about to say is somewhat shocking to me. Wicked, now playing at the Fabulous Fox Theatre is actually better than the hype! Now, I get why it won all those Tonys, and makes stars out of its leads.
By now, most of us know this revisionist history, about the origins of both the Wicked Witch of the West, and the Good Witch of the North – before some brat named Dorothy drops in from Kansas to screw things up – but here it is in brief: Elphaba arrives at Shiz University, put in charge of her handicapped sister, Nessa Rose, and green with envy that she doesn’t fit in there; unlike her nemesis – the very perky and very blonde Galinda. Naturally they are assigned to room together, and hate each other instantly. A handsome devil-may-care bad boy named Fiyero shows up, and both Galinda and Elphaba fall hard. Of course, Galinda wins. Elphaba takes it in stride, and even helps Galinda get into the coveted sorcery class led by Madame Morrible, which prompts Galinda to take Elphaba under wing in an attempt to make her popular. When the animals in Oz begin to be rounded up, and caged, Elphaba and Fiyero spring into action, and they begin to fall in love. Galinda, in a show of misplaced solidarity, changes her name to Glinda, and pledges to help. When our heroines are chosen to meet with the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Elphaba uses the opportunity to plead her case for the animals. Upon learning that the higher-ups in Oz are actually sanctioning the abuse, she rebels, urging Glinda to stand with her. Glinda wishes to keep her newfound place in the status quo (thus becoming Glinda the Good), while Elphaba is made a scapegoat, (forever being labeled the Wicked Witch of the West). They part friends, but …can they remain so?
The book, adapted by Winnie Holzman from the novel by Gregory Maguire is funny, touching and clever, exploding what we thought we knew about Oz and its characters, and also reminding us that good and wicked may not be as cut and dried as it seems. I especially loved the many hilarious Wizard of Oz inside jokes! Music by Stephen Schwartz is poppy and perky, and cohesive - avoiding, for the most part, the pastiche feel of his earlier works, like Godspell. Direction by Joe Mantello, and musical staging by Wayne Cilento is so absorbing that it makes the show seem shorter than it is; sets by Eugene Lee and costumes by Susan Hilferty are practical and impressive. Emerald City is a knockout, and Oz-garb is hilarious and awesome.
The entire ensemble sing and dance as well, if not better, than any I’ve seen, and all of the leads were very, very good. Gina Ferral as Morrible, Jay Russell as Doctor Dillamond, Michael Drolet as jilted Boq, Paul Kreppel as the Wiz, and, especially Zarah Mahler as Nessa Rose all turn in fine performances. Billy Harrigan Tighe seemed a perfect Fiyero – cocky, funny, and he sang like a dream. But, of course, the evening belonged to the gals. Jeanna De Waal wisely put her own spin on Glinda, and I appreciated that. Friends who’ve seen Wicked before say that this Glinda wasn’t as ditsy (or Chenowith-ized) as she is usually played, and therefore is a little more approachable. Christine Dwyer is a marvel as our bad-girl/heroine, Elphaba, getting us behind her every step of the way, and making easy work of some very hard songs.
So, if you (like Public Enemy) Don’t Believe the Hype, this time you should, and consider making the trip to the Fabulous Fox to see this stellar Wicked