'Wicked' Tour Takes Boston by Storm
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Book by Winnie Holzman, Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire; Director, Joe Mantello; Musical Staging, Wayne Cilento; Settings, Eugene Lee; Costumes, Susan Hilferty; Lighting, Kenneth Posner; Sound, Tony Meola; Projections, Elaine J. McCarthy; Wigs & Hair, Tom Watson; Music Director, P. Jason Yarcho; Production Stage Manager, Peter Van Dyke
CAST: Jackie Burns, Elphaba; Chandra Lee Schwartz, Glinda; Richard H. Blake, Fiyero; Justin Brill, Boq; Michelle London, Nessarose; StevenSkybell, Doctor Dillamond; Randy Danson, Madame Morrible; Richard Kline, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; ENSEMBLE: Todd Anderson, Penelope Armstead-Williams, Terra Lynn Arrington, Catherine Charlebois, Keith A. Bearden, Aaron De Jesus, Emily Ferranti, Luis Augusto Figueroa, Dominic Giudici, Napoleon W. Gladney, Spencer Jones, Kevin Jordan, Kelly Lafarga, Renee Lawless-Orsini, Philip Dean Lightstone, Kourtni Lind, Marissa Lupp, Corey Mach, Sterling Masters, Kevin McMahon, Robert Pendilla, Christopher Russo, Adam Sanford, Carla Stickler, Brandon Tyler, Shanna VanDerwerker, Bud Weber, Betsy Werbel, Sunny L. Yokoyama, Lauren Ashley Zakrin, Jared Zirilli
Performances through October 17 at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street; Purchase tickets through Ticketmaster 1-800-982-2787, at the Box Office of Colonial Theatre or Opera House, or online at www.BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com/Boston or www.Ticketmaster.com/wicked
Move over, Hurricane Earl. Boston has been taken by a bona fide storm - a category four whirlwind known as Wicked, the smash hit musical currently in its seventh year on Broadway. The second national tour of the ten-time Tony-nominated show has blown into the Boston Opera House for the next six weeks with an outstanding cast, intricate sets and effects, beautifully detailed costumes, and a 17-piece orchestra, including twelve local musicians, in the pit under Conductor P. Jason Yarcho. This is Broadway in Boston, and this is as good as it gets.
Exhibit A is the giant red-eyed dragon perched ominously above the proscenium, spewing smoke from its metallic nostrils as a gang of flying monkeys clambers up and down the machinery framing the stage, accompanied by the mournful strains of the opening number. This is only the first in a series of astounding visuals, capped by an extravaganza of green lights and costumes that brings the Emerald City to colorful life, the awesome animated Wizard's head, and a rear-lit projection of silhouettes on a curtain to mime the scene of the Wicked Witch's demise. Employing 200 pounds of dry ice per show, fog and smoke add to the drama and topnotch magical effects that transport you to a land of fantasy and enchantment.
Exhibits B and C are the dual dazzling performances by Jackie Burns as the woefully misunderstood Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, and Chandra Lee Schwartz as the goody two-shoes Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Burns has the unenviable task of having to erase the audience's pre-existing notion that her character is totally evil and vindictive ("I'll get you, my pretty...") and showing her humanity and vulnerability. She garners sympathy for Elphaba's loveless childhood, rejected by her parents for her greenness, and as the object of ridicule from her classmates when Burns' feistiness exposes the thickness of the girl's green skin. As she travels the story arc that takes the character from insecure college student to confident sorceress, her Elphaba is compelling. Not to be outdone, Schwartz puts her personal stamp on the role in the early scenes as she captures the superficiality of the popular girl on campus, but eliminates the bounciness and replaces it with gravitas and depth as Glinda matures and accepts greater responsibility. Both actresses bring their terrific vocal talents to the eclectic score, blending together humorously ("What Is This Feeling?") and heartbreakingly ("For Good"). Burns warbles sweetly in the quiet songs and can really belt to convey Elphaba's enthusiasm or anger without the stridency of the role's originator, Idina Menzel. Schwartz's voice has a lovely crystalline quality in the upper register and she is most adorable in Glinda's signature song "Popular."
Supporting the two leads, Richard H. Blake plays Fiyero as a cross between Beauty and the Beast's Gaston and a rock star. Justin Brill is a sweet and sympathetic Boq, the Munchkin who is smitten with Glinda. In the hands of Randy Danson, Madame Morrible is part sycophant, part monster, and Richard Kline is both meek and evil as the Wizard, her partner in crime. Michelle London does a wonderful transformation as Nessarose changes from shy schoolgirl to bitter, powerful pol. Steven Skybell is a likable, sensitive Doctor Dillamond. Surrounding them all is a solid ensemble working in synch, with costume changes too numerous to count, as monkeys, students, Palace Guards, and Citizens of Oz.
The story starts where The Wizard of Oz left off, with Glinda the Good Witch descending in her bubble to reassure the denizens of Oz that the Wicked Witch of the West is most assuredly dead, liquidated by that little girl from Kansas. From there, librettist Winnie Holzman and composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz take us back to see how it all began, when the two powerful women were unwilling roommates and polar opposites at Shiz University. The popular and privileged Galinda (her original name) could have stepped right out of Legally Blonde, her pink and white perkiness getting her what she wants in life. Green-skinned Elphaba, charged with looking after her wheelchair-bound younger sister Nessarose, struggles to find a way to fit in, but meets with fear and derision. When Elphaba reveals an innate aptitude for magic, Headshiztress Madame Morrible notices her and promises to arrange an audience with the Wizard. Fiyero, a Winkie prince with a live for the moment mentality, arrives at Shiz and becomes the object of Galinda's desire.
Meanwhile, Doctor Dillamond, the school's only animal instructor, opens Elphaba's eyes to some nefarious goings-on in Oz, permanently altering the path of her ambition. When she finally meets with the Wizard, she asks him to stop the poor treatment of animals in Oz, but he tricks her into casting a spell on the monkeys and, hoping she will help him control the territory, tries to seduce her with the promise of power. Elphaba rejects the dream she has sought and asserts her new persona in an electrifying "Defying Gravity," emphatically bringing the first act to a close.
Composer Schwartz's musical numbers advance the story and provide character information, such as in "Dancing Through Life," Fiyero's ode to the grasshopper's creed, and "Wonderful," the back story of how the Wizard himself was seduced into his post. The origins of the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion are all neatly worked into the plot as well, but I don't want to give away too much (FYI: Wikipedia has a thorough synopsis). Holzman's book asks the question, "Are people born wicked or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?" As the story progresses and teaches many life lessons in an unassuming manner, it is up to each one of us to answer that for ourselves, just as Dorothy had to learn that there's no place like home. Ultimately, the show is about the unlikely friendship between Elphaba and Glinda and the unbreakable bond they share for eternity despite their personality conflicts, opposing viewpoints, shared love interest, and political differences.
If you're seeing Wicked for the first time, consider yourself fortunate to be seeing this splashy production and this strong cast. If you're a repeat customer, you'll experience it with a new thrill in the personal interpretations of Burns, Schwartz, and company. This was my second visit to the Land of Oz and, to borrow a line from Mr. Schwartz, it left "a handprint on my heart."