Musical Review: Wicked
Broadway phenomenon Wicked premiered in 2003 to mixed reviews. Despite the divided critics, patron popularity bordering on hysteria created a musical juggernaut, grossing more than $56 million in its first year. Nominated for ten 2004 Tonys, Wicked walked away with the Tony Award for Best Actress, Scenic and Costume Design. Wicked continues to play to sold out crowds in cities around the world and is currently on it’s second U.S. tour. Wicked premiered at the Music Hall on November 11th and will run until December 6th.
Wicked was adapted for the stage by Winnie Holzman, who seems to have an uncanny understanding of what teenage girls and sexually confused boys will become obsessed with, having created My So-Called Life back in the mid-nineties. Based on Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire, the musical focuses on the witches of Oz, specifically the relationship between Elphaba the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch of the South. Holzman’s knowledge of high school hierarchy is evident in the complicated relationship between the two witches. Reluctant roommates, Glinda is bubbly, pretty and popular while Elphaba is talented, green and an outcast. Over time they become friends and of course, fall for the same guy. By the time Dorothy arrives in Oz, Elphaba has been labeled a “wicked witch” and in hiding, while Glinda is figurehead of the Oz political machine.
I loved the basic story of Wicked, discovering what made each witch what she is and how the writers wove in bits a pieces from Wizard of Oz, providing just enough surprise to keep it interesting. I loved how the musical never appears to take itself too seriously; it’s big and flashy and cheesy at times, and it’s okay with that, leaving the audience free to sit back and enjoy the ride. After just seeing Spring Awakening at the Music Hall, which I enjoyed, it was refreshing to have all the special effects and costume changes of Wicked. And what costume changes there are! Costume designer Susan Hilferty did a fantastic job, marrying steam punk and whimsical silhouette into an overall great show. The chorus costumes (of which there were five completely different and awesome sets for each chorus member) were easily my favorite technical part of the production, vibrant and over the top, each group the chorus represented had a different theme; the students all wore variations of blue and white stripes, at a dance everyone wore graphic black and white patterns, in Oz it’s all green, all the time. The animal costumes were also a favorite of mine, especially the flying monkeys, creeping me out and fascinating me the entire show. My only bone to pick with Hilferty is over Fiyero’s costumes…those vests and high-waisted breaches are doing nothing for the guy…. Please get a man-girdle or keep him in coats, its just cruel and unusual punishment to do otherwise.
I wasn’t immediately impressed with Helene Yorke’s performance as Glinda. It took a couple of numbers for me to warm up to her, the amazing Kristin Chenoweth is a hard act to follow, but I ultimately did enjoy Ms. Yorke’s portrayal. Marcie Dodd also had some large shoes to fill in playing the lead, Elphaba. Originated by Idina Menzel, who won the 2004 Tony Award for Leading Actress in a Musical for it, Elphaba is the most interesting and compelling character in the show. Lucky for us Ms. Dodd was wonderful.
As technically brilliant as Wicked is, and as good as the performances are, Wicked never completely hooked me. The most intense emotional connection I felt would have to be with the song I’m Not that Girl (because who hasn’t liked the unavailable guy?) and the complicated relationship between Elphaba and Glinda; the jealousy and competition and fierce love that they feel for one another resonated with me. I think women of all ages will be able to relate to that part of the musical, and I dare you not to tear up, just a little, during Elphaba and Glinda’s duet For Good.
Wicked runs through Dec. 6 at the Music Hall. Call 800-982-2787 or go to www.ticketmaster.com.