BWW Reviews: WICKED Brings Magic to The Landmark Theatre
It's not hard to realize why WICKED remains a huge favorite for theatergoers and even for those with a less musical inclination.
WICKED has been a cherished Broadway gem since 2004-garnering Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards. It's easy to get all tingly when walking into the theater knowing what's coming-the dizziness of flying monkeys, the shocking emerald green skin and all of the dazzling colorfulness of Oz.
Yet, this tingly feeling might not stem only from the theatrical heart-stopping experience that makes this musical. WICKED gives a peculiar closure to "The Wizard of Oz," one that the audience didn't receive as children. It's the lavish behind-the-scenes world that flipped the joy of "Somewhere over the Rainbow" on its head. Dorothy no longer seems so innocent as much as a ruthless murderer and the great and powerful Oz himself has a hidden agenda. The dirtiness, yet innocence, of WICKED is why the musical remains so beguiling, it's almost taboo.
Still, the production has set itself apart with a musical score written by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman, the musical carries over motifs of intolerance and friendship throughout the performance. It's a show that boasts the feel good themes of overcoming differences. The set is an overwhelming and grandiose nod to fairytales. A show like this has proven to be a Broadway diamond and one that translates, elegantly, on tour.
The Landmark Theatre, which will host this show until Dec. 9, renovated its theatre to host bigger touring Broadway productions. Starting with Jersey Boys this past October, the Landmark fit WICKED comfortably into the venue, adding an additional Broadway feel to the glamorous performance.
This touring production also has a close relationship to Syracuse. Two Syracuse University graduates are currently performing in the show. Jay Russell, class of 1986, is performing as the controversial University of Shiz professor Dr. Dillamond. Russell plays a lovable speaking goat and animal activist who sets the action for the rest of the show. Russell goes from half-man to all goat in the matter of one "bah." Russell delivers a brief, but endearing performance that captures the audience's hearts.
Laura Houghton, class of 2004, is the understudy to the future "Wicked Witch of the East," Nessarose. Houghton has performed in the ensemble of the Broadway production and she also toured as a permanent swing for touring productions.
The WICKED bond to Central New York is even more intimate as the Chittenango-native author of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," L. Frank Baum, wrote the novel in 1900. His book inspired Gregory Maguire's 1995 novel, "Wicked: The Life and Time of the Wicked Witch of the West," which started the road to the musical as the story is told from the witch's perspective.
Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth iconized the roles of Elphaba and Glinda, formerly Galinda; therefore, the roles are big wands to hold. Christine Dwyer (Elphaba) and Jeanna de Waal (Glinda) have an affectionate chemistry, one that stems from their first girly duet ("What is This Feeling?"). The strong connection that two characters harbor for each other rests with the incredible harmonies the two belt out when forming their friendship, especially in "For Good."
De Waal plays a bratty, yet good hearted Glinda. Her soprano builds throughout the show, but she unfortunately lacks the mechanics of Glinda that audiences have become prone to. Although she flits about the stage and throws her hair back and forth for her famous "toss, toss," she lacks the bubbliness of the good witch. Disappointingly, "Popular" fell a little flat. De Waal doesn't hit all of the jokes and seems less eager to push the over-the-top behavior that is acceptable with this song. Still, once rolling, de Waal's performance grows and the "good" in Glinda shines in her abilities and sultriness.
Dwyer delivers a spot-on performance that was pioneered by Menzel. Her Elphaba is brave and nerdishly extroverted. Her gusto as the wicked witch is mesmerizing. As the well-known "Defying Gravity" continues, her voice is at its peak. As Dwyer flew into the air, gripping her broom and the image of the iconic witch is born, the audience stops. Dwyer delivered an overwhelming performance as she conveyed a driven Elphaba who's not out for blood, but out for equality-she's heartbreaking and inspirational.
The best part about touring productions is that Broadway comes to the audience. It's an added bonus to see a stellar cast that brings the same emotion that the original has made Broadway legend. But, even more, being able to see a production that revamps and changes the theme of a childhood favorite will always garner a deep-rooted love.
Photo: Joan Marcus