BWW Review: WICKED at THE HIPPODROME

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BWW Review: WICKED  at THE HIPPODROME

Chances are, as America is an increasing book-abhorrent culture, most folks familiar with THE WIZARD OF OZ know only of the 1939 Judy Garland film, versus author L. Frank Baum's children's 1900 book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. While the book and the film are fairly well aligned as children's entertainment, author Gregory Maguire's 1995 spin on the story, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West is most definitely for the adults. Political upheaval, adultery, multiple murders, family dysfunction, betrayal, it's downright Shakespearean. All three serve as fantastical fodder for Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman's Broadway production of Wicked, a sort of Oz-ian "Odd Couple," were Neil Simon a fan of J.R.R. Tolkein and J. K. Rowling: "On Ozmember the 13th, Elphaba was asked to remove herself from her place of residence; that request came from her father. Deep down, she believed he was right, but knew that someday she would return. With nowhere else to go, she appeared at university and meets Galinda, fresh off an off-Broadway run of LEGALLY BLONDE. Can two strange women share a dorm room together without driving each other crazy?"

Elphaba (her name, Wikipedia tells us, is a nod to L {El}. F-as-in-Frank {Pha} Baum {Ba}) is talkative, because she's intelligent, tall because she's powerful and green because...well, you'll need to find an Ozian toxicologist or OB/GYN to explain that one. Like another cartoonish figure for adults, Jessica Rabbit, Elphaba isn't bad, she's just "drawn that way." Though in a land where goats teach on a collegiate level and people wear clothes seemingly designed by GRATEFUL DEAD roadies after a bad acid trip, you'd think green skin wouldn't be much of deterrent to successful social assimilation. But you'd be wrong. Fortunately for Elphaba (Talia Suskauer), she encounters Galinda (Allison Bailey), a literally bubble-headed fair-haired popular girl, and before you know it-Besties Forever! ROAD TRIP! Two gal-pals on their way to fun and adventure in the big (Emerald) city.

Throughout the course of this 2-hour-and-45-minute (with intermission) production, Elphaba grows from caretaker for her wheelchair-ridden sister Nessarose (Amanda Fallon Smith) to gifted would-be sorcerer to Wizard's favorite to social outcast. Sandwiched between these metamorphoses she finds time to fall for the hunkish Fiyero (Curt Hansen), who, through some magic (love perhaps?) transforms from 2-dimensional Big Man at Hogwarts (only here, it's Shiz University) to Emerald City Captain of the Guard to traitor to a man who knows how to "make hay". It's a bit much to follow as Fiyero ascends Kohlberg's six stages of moral development while ultimately achieving crop-protector status, and we haven't even touched on the munchkin, Boq (D.J. Plunkett), who loses heart (literally) and endures full-body metal melanoma all because he doesn't have the gumption to ask Galinda (later, Glinda) out on a date. Mix in a dark plot to make talking animals like Tom Flynn's Dr. Dillamond second class citizens, a Wizard (Cleavant Derricks) who's a Father-Knows-Best-wannabe if Robert Young were a member of the Alt-Right ("Nothing brings people together like a common enemy!"), Sharon Sachs' Madame Morrible (as in horrible), a magical Margaret Dumont with a hint of Dr. Goebbels, a silhouette-cameo of Dorothy and her little dog too, and you've got yourself a show!

All this seems a tad...silly, and therein lies the connection to the original work-Oz is for kids, afterall. Wicked is certainly a feast for the eyes, as the sets, such as Glinda's bubble-blowing levitation, Elphaba's gravity defiance, the flying monkeys, kaleidoscopic costumes, a glowing red-eyed smoke spewing dragon and, of course, the malevolent manifestation of "the Great and Powerful Oz" all compete for the audience's attention.

Elphaba may have a magical broom but she's also got a powerful set of pipes, nearly shaking the rafters as Suskauer belts out songs like "Defying Gravity" and "No Good Deed," each ending with a powerful, how-long-can-she-sustain-that-note vocal crescendo. Impressive, but also somewhat...empty...as though written, as Salieri notes to Mozart in AMADEUS, to give the audience the cue when to clap. The songs themselves are not particularly memorable, and have a repetitive quality-again, perhaps that's the method to the madness, as children seem to have a tendency to enjoy hearing and seeing the same thing over and over and over again (as those with little ones who insist on watching FROZEN for 734th time can attest).

One thing Wicked does not lack is enthusiasm-the energy level of all the performers, from the leads to the chorus, registers as full-on-Red-Bull-with-a-double-shot-of-expresso. Kudos also to scene-stealer Allison Bailey whose hair-flips, leg-kicks and wise-cracks had the audience laughing and cheering.

Wicked continues its run at...The Hippodrome Theatre, France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 North Eutaw Street in downtown Baltimore, now through March 8th. Visit https://www.baltimore-theater.com/theaters/hippodrome-performing-arts-center/wicked.php for more information.




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From This Author Daniel Collins