BWW Reviews: WICKED Books Return Flight To Costa Mesa
What do you get when you introduce an iconic, well-known familiar story with newer, layered elements that reveal things from behind the so-called Emerald curtain? Let's just say it's a show where the witch isn't entirely the wickedest person in the land. Arguably the biggest blockbuster stage musical of our rather young century, box-office behemoth WICKED has returned to Orange County for an almost month-long engagement at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, which will play to an expected packed house each night through April 3. The good news of the show's 2nd National Tour making an extended stop here, no doubt, has been "rejoicified" by the show's local fans who've been waiting for its triumphant comeback to a much closer venue than New York.
Based loosely on Gregory Maguire's novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West—which adds additional layers of back-story to Frank L. Baum's classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz—WICKED, the stage musical, has been a consistent hit since its Broadway debut seven years ago, and has ballooned into a worldwide phenomenon that shows no signs of waning. It's really not a surprise that this crowd-pleaser is such a resounding, critic-proof hit, considering that the show is a near-perfect combination of imaginative story, sympathetic yet complex characters, incredibly memorable music, fantastic sets and costumes, and even universally-applaudable messages of tolerance, animal rights, and individual self-expression. It's a visual and aural splendor from start to finish, and has incited the kind of loyal fanbase that rivals any teen idolatry from the last century.
Told from the more sympathetic points of view of the two main witches of Oz, this Tony Award-winning show tells the "real" story of Elphaba (here played by Anne Brummel), the eccentric misunderstood outsider who would later be known as the Wicked Witch of the West. At the start of the show, there is a jubilant celebration among the denizens of Oz proclaiming the good news that the Wicked Witch is at last dead (at the hands of Kansas tourist Dorothy). Glinda, the Good Witch (here played by Natalie Daradich) heralds the death as "good conquering evil." Yet, there's a melancholy in Glinda's recitation. After a pointed question to the sparkling lady with wand and tiara, floating above in a bubble, we begin the journey of discovery, revealing the truth behind what truly constitutes evil.
It turns out the evil Witch had a rougher-than-usual childhood: her mother, married to the Mayor of Munchkinland, had a secret affair with a green-elixer peddler of unknown origins. Upon Elphaba's birth—emerald skin and all—the man she knew as her father begins a life-long shunning, even blaming her for the physical ailments of her younger sister Nessarose (Michelle London). And unlike what we were told in Baum's original novel—and the massively popular movie it spawned in 1939 starring Judy Garland—Elphaba was actually friends with Glinda (she was known as Galinda first, a name she would change later). The two meet and reluctantly become roommates while attending Shiz University. While there, Elphaba is discovered to be a "star" pupil by school Headmistress Madame Morrible (Marilyn Caskey) who sees great things in her future, much to Galinda's jealousy.
The two future witches couldn't be more different: jaded but smart Elphaba struggles with fitting in (her skin, after all, is "unnaturally" green), while self-absorbed mean girl Galinda is perky, quite popular and usually gets her way. At first the two can't stand each other, but they eventually grow to be each other's best friend despite clashing idealogies, differing wardrobes, falling for the same shallow cad, Fiyero (David Nathan Perlow), and their opposing political convictions. The latter, we learn in depth-defying fashion, is the impetus for Elphaba's eventual wicked reputation, elevating her as an evil villain that she has been mistakenly portrayed to be in The Wizard of Oz.