Wicked Reviewed

Were you mesmerized by The Wizard of Oz as a kid? Did you want to go to Oz? I bet there were a lot of questions you had about those witches of Oz, like why was the Wicked Witch so bent on getting those ruby slippers or how the tin man and scarecrow came to be without a heart and a brain? All your questions and more will be answered in the Broadway musical Wicked about the witches of Oz long before Dorothy dropped in.

Wicked is based on the 1995 novel, The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. Some would call it a prequel to The Wizard of Oz, but Maguire calls it a re-imaging of the classic story or as the same story in another lifetime. Maguire’s book is very dark and gray in color and has been trimmed considerably for the musical. It deals with such  issues as political oppression, the nature of evil and animal rights. The book serves as a basis for the story, but by no means is the story of Wicked. Compared to the book, the musical is downright cheery. Winnie Holzman, who was a writer on the short lived Clare Danes television program, My So Called Life wrote the book for the musical. She was smart to focus on the relationship between the two young witches of Oz. The green skinned Elphaba, who will grow up to be the Wicked Witch of the West and the popularity queen, Galinda, who will go on to be the bubble flying Glinda the Good. This relationship is almost non-existent in the novel. This unlikely friendship goes from hate to love to hate and back to love again, like most friendships between girls. The story is funny, touching, heartfelt, heart wrenching, and witty all at the same time.

Who dropped a house on my sister?

The story weaves in cleverly aspects of the story we all know and love. Dorothy, the scarecrow, the tin man, the cowardly lion, the ruby slippers, and the yellow brick road all make an appearance in unsuspecting ways. You will never look at the Wizard of Oz the same way again.

The musical starts out with the death of the Wicked Witch who has seemingly been wreaking havoc all over Oz. The story then shifts back to the birth of the green skinned baby who is instantly shunned by her family and society. When Elphaba grows up she goes to Shiz University where she meets and instantly loathes the clothes obsessed popularity queen Galinda. It is not until each girl helps each other that they become friends. Elphaba is a champion of animal rights. In Oz there are animals that can talk and function in society. The Wizard wants them squashed and put in their place as, well, animals. So Elphaba and the newly named Glinda journey to the Emerald City to appeal to the wizard about the rights of animals. The wizard realizes Elphaba, a sorcery master, is a threat to him so he orchestrates a plot to make her out to look like a traitor and evil person. The wizard’s philosophy  is “the best way to bring folks together is to give them a really good enemy.” Elphaba from then on is crowned the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda, Glinda the Good. All of Oz now wants the wicked witch dead.

The core of Wicked is the two girls and their friendship. Elphaba and Glinda are beautifully brought to life by the immensely talented Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth respectively.  The two are worth the price of admission hands down.

Idina Menzel

Idina Menzel began her career on the Broadway stage in Rent, where she created the character of Maureen. She has also starred in The Wild Party and is a accomplished songwriter with two Cds to her name. The big voiced Menzel has given the green girl a soul and a voice, and what a voice it is. She longs to be accepted and for people to look past her greenness. In “The Wizard and I” she sings of hope, acceptance and longing, “Someday they’ll be a celebration in all of Oz that’s all to do with me,” and in “Defying Gravity” she sings of making a difference, “I’m flying high defying gravity and soon I’ll match them in renown and no one in all of Oz is ever gonna bring me down.”  You can’t help but hope she gets her dreams. Because of  her drive she “has wickedness thrust upon her” and falls prey to a controlling wizard.

Kristin Chenoweth

As soon as Kristin Chenoweth arrives on stage in her floating bubble and proclaims, “It’s good to see me isn’t it?” you can’t help but agree with her. Chenoweth, who is a trained opera singer, made her Broadway debut in Moliere’s Scapin. She won a Tony Award for her work as Sally in You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown and has starred in such television musicals as Annie and The Music Man. She has great comic timing and I don’t know if anyone could pull off Glinda but her. Glinda is self absorbed and selfish, but she is also delightful, charming, hysterical and insecure. So much so that you have to love her. She speaks in Oz language like announcing the “meltification” of the witch. Chenoweth has the rare talent of an amazing voice range and can show vanity, hurt, malice, and sympathy all at the same time and convincingly.

Menzel and Chenoweth compliment each other, each displaying their amazing talents. Menzel is the heart and soul of the show while Chenoweth is the light and grace.

Stephen Schwartz’s score is very poppish. It is very touching and heartfelt but is nothing all that original and defining. But despite that I love it. I have never heard lyrics that rhyme as much as these do. Each line from beginning to end follows one after the other. For example, “No good deed goes unpunished, sure, I meant wll – well, look what well meant did.” Defying Gravity and No Good Deed soar off the page with Menzel’s dynamic voice. Popular is a show stopping number sung outrageously by Chenoweth, and For Good is a touching closure to a friendship.

The Dragon and Map of Oz

Eugene Lee’s staging is awe inspiring. The curtain is a dazzling map of Oz with a sparkling Emerald City in the middle. The stage is a rustic forest with a giant mechanical dragon that comes to life lurking above the stage.  It is enough to make anyone feel like they are not in Kansas anymore. The witch’s monkeys fly out over the audience, and in the climactic first act finale, Elphaba, as the newly crowned Wicked Witch, defies gravity and soars over the stage on her broom.  I literally had goose bumps.

Elphaba Defies Gravity

Susan Hilferty’s  costumes were inspired by illustrations drawn by W. W Denslow and are described as “twisted Edwardian.” They are slightly familiar but just strange enough to look other worldly.

Wicked has the combination all Broadway musicals strive for: a touching story, awesome staging, great characters, and a sense of  familiarity in a story that we all loved as a child. With these qualities, Wicked could play on Broadway for ten or more years, and deservingly so. Broadway has found the musical of the future. Everyone can relate to the green girl with a heart who longed for love and acceptance in her life. We all long for the same things.

I only have one question? When I can I see it again.

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