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BWW Reviews: WICKED is Delightfully Good on Columbus Tour Stop

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There are a handful of musicals that define Broadway- consistently good talent, amazing sets and costumes, scores that leave you humming their tunes for days, and themes so universally appealing that their fans base extends from children coming to the audience for their first show up to senior citizens seeing the show for their 8th time. One of these icoNic Few, Stephen Schwartz's "Wicked" played to a nearly sold-out crowd at the Ohio Theater last night, where it runs for a lengthy 3 weeks, now through June 23rd. On the anniversary of its first green girl, role originator Idina Menzel, winning the Tony Award for Best Actress, fans coming to the show expecting an equally phenomenal touring cast would not be disappointed last night.

For those who may have been living on another theatrical hemisphere, "Wicked" is the story of the Wizard of Oz told in a way you've not heard before, largely sans Dorothy, in which the storyline centers around the unlikely friendship between "good" witch, Glinda as she rises to rule Oz, and "wicked" witch, Elphaba, after the odd couple become roommates back in college. While the storyline itself, though fascinating conceptually, has its share of potholes (but also incredibly witty and funny lines), what it lacks in character development of some of the supporting roles, is more than made up for by a fantastic score and lyrics that are among the most memorable in present Broadway culture. To cast a musical where the lead characters have nearly all been played by Broadway superstars the likes of Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, Leo Norbert Butz, Joel Gray, and Carole Shelley, is no small undertaking, and I expected to be slightly disappointed with the touring cast as such. I have never been more pleasantly surprised.

Jenn Gambatese as Glinda is uproariously funny, snarky, with just the right touch of sentimentality and true heart, and plenty of blond ambition. Gambatese, her Soprano voice crystal clear and beautiful, is also exceptionally good at finding comic moments, adding hysterical facial expressions, and most impressively, creating the undertone of sadness and regret necessary to make the audience feel the blur of good and perceived evil central to the show. Her 'I'm Not That Girl" reprise and "For Good" have fabulous emotional depth, while the crowd favorite "Popular" takes her skills 180 degrees in the opposite direction and has the audience laughing out loud.

Meanwhile, the "bad" girl with a good heart, Elphaba, is played exceedingly well by tour newcomer, Alison Luff. Ms. Luff is a little more edgy, a little angrier, a little less tender than typically done, but the contrast of that choice to the moments when Elphaba shows her deep-rooted capacity to salvage something good from terrible situations, makes the overall tone of her character beautifully rich. Giddy and very much the schoolgirl at Shiz, Luff is captivating in "The Wizard and I" as her excitement at her life changing leaves the audience immediately routing for her. The epic 'Defying Gravity" (though this song will always truly belong to Menzel) was just a fabulous as I had hoped for, with a cool riff thrown in at the end that made it Luff's own. I was thrilled to see several times that while Luff is certainly true to the original character, she adds just enough flair that she will leave her own mark on the character- well done, indeed. The raw emotion of "No Good Deed" is also show-stopping.

Luff works very well with Curt Hansen's Fiyero, and their chemistry is quiet, but believable. Hansen is a perfect visual fit for the pretty little rich boy who gets caught up in a love triangle between Glinda and Elphaba, and though the story brings too little development of his character, he delivers one of the best performances I've seen of "Dancing Through Life". His emotional duet with Luff, "As Long As You're Mine", is beautiful and haunting.

Other notable performances include soap actress turned Broadway girl, Kim Zimmer, as an impressive Madame Morrible. Zimmer channels Carole Shelley for sure, and is a pro at subtle facial expressions that foretell the cards she is holding that deal massive blows to the fate of both Elphaba and Glinda. Hollywood Squares' star John Davidson is a charismatic Wizard, despite the script sadly leaving his character horribly undeveloped. Jesse JP Johnson as Boq is a bit like an overzealous puppy, and again, while his character is tragically underdeveloped, he unfortunately does little to make the audience feel interest in his plight of chasing after the out-of-his-league Glinda. His change of heart to leave Nessarose is haphazard that the audience actually chuckled, rather than feeling the conflict of his foolish adoration for a girl he can't have contrasted by the unexpected friendship he finds with a desperate-for-love Nessarose. Speaking of Nessarose, Elphaba's rarely mentioned sibling, Jaime Rosenstein does a nice job of attempting to bring life to the witch best known for a house falling on her, but the character's stage time is sadly limited.

The ensemble is smaller than the original Broadway production in this touring version, but is one of the best I've seen. Helped tremendously by elaborate costumes by Susan Hilferty and wigs by Tom Watson that are a visual smorgasbord of eccentricity and excitement, and a set by Eugene Lee that is intricate, monstrous, and incredibly impressive, the ensemble members each create characters with individual personalities that make you wonder who they are as citizens of Oz, as if each nameless ensemble member has their own untold story.

There's a reason why, though this touring production has graced Columbus' stage before, it is still playing for three whole weeks this run, and still packing in sold-out crowds- it is simply a "must-see" show. The touring cast of "Wicked" undoubtedly makes its original Broadway version predecessors extremely proud, and continues to deliver the kind of entertainment that not only makes for an astoundingly enjoyable evening at the theater, but leaves you forever thinking, and feeling a bit differently than before. And that, my friends, is how musical theater history is made.

"Wicked" runs now through June 23rd at Columbus' Ohio Theater. For tickets and additional information, please go to: http://www.capa.com/presentations/current-season-presentations/wicked


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Lisa grew up participating in community theater groups such as Cincinnati Young People's Theater (CYPT) in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio, both in front of and behind (read more...)