BWW Reviews: Road Trip to Oz
What can I write about Wicked that hasn't already been written? The musical has been a hit since opening on Broadway in 2004 and now has productions around the globe and two touring productions in the United States. Some write of the power of its' message and others lament its' shortcomings. But I am writing this piece and therefore I have the freedom to say that Wicked is my favorite musical, hands down. Wicked played in St. Louis through January 6th and lucky for me the Fox Theatre is just a short journey down the yellow brick road from Des Moines.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the plot, Wicked tells of the unlikely friendship between Glinda the Good Witch and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. Shifting loyalties and a romantic rivalry challenge their friendship and force them both to question their motivations and determine the worth of their relationship.
But what is it about Wicked that makes it so enchanting? To begin with, the production value is of the highest standard. The sets, costumes, and lighting design are precise, intricate, and seamless at the same time. Every cog, spotlight, and askew hairstyle is clearly the work of detail-oriented masterminds and yet the designs do not call attention to themselves for being overworked. Instead, they work together to form the magical land of Oz. Indeed, one of the highlights of the show is the number "One Short Day," in which Elphaba and Glinda explore the Emerald City. As the name suggests, the Emerald City is green from floor to ceiling. As the green lighting punctures the blackness of the auditorium and washes over the audience, you become a citizen of Oz.
The other enchanting element is the music, which serves to both underscore the characters' motivation, interject humor, also gives the performers an opportunity to shine. "What is This Feeling?" expresses Glinda and Elphaba's instant hatred of each other with a humor that is echoed later in "Popular,"sung after their friendship starts to grow. And "Defy Gravity," which conveys Elphaba's resolve, soars with melodies that are as high as the hopes she has for her future.
The current cast of the 2nd national touring company is upholding the tradition of bringing a Broadway-caliber cast to your local theater. The ensemble cast makes the precision of the choreography look easy, no easy task considering that most numbers are frenetic and fast-paced. Jeanna de Waal, as Glinda, wonderfully portrays the good witch with the proper balance of bubbliness and rationality. And while the whole of Wicked is absolutely greater than the sumof its' parts, the show relies in large part on the strength of its' Elphaba. Christine Dwyer is perfectly cast as the misunderstood green witch determined to make good. Having seen Dwyer in her days as the standby for Elphaba, that evening there was clearly a hint of reservation in the arduous numbers that she typically belts through the roof. I later learned she was recovering from strep throat, the knowledge of which makes that night's performance even more incredible. Elphaba's struggle to find the confidence to believe in her dreams is one that audiences easily identify with and Dwyer draws you right in, giving Elphaba unmatched passion and purpose.
If you have the opportunity to see any of the productions of Wicked, you should run to the theater as fast as you can. And if you go into the show without preconceived notions and let yourself enjoy the performances and the spectacle, Wicked will stick with you. As the lyrics say, you will be changed for good.
Photos: Joan Marcus