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BWW Reviews: WICKED is Magically Bewitching!

I was a freshman at Sam Houston State University when I first read Gregory Maguire's riveting and racy novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. That same year, on October 30, 2003 WICKED opened on Broadway at the Gershwin Theatre. I was first bewitched by WICKED when the Original Broadway Cast Album was released on December 16, 2003. In October 2005, I saw the miraculous show for the first time when the First National Tour landed in Houston. Now, WICKED is retuning to Houston for the fourth time and the musical's Broadway production will turn 10 years old this year. It is currently the 12th Longest Running Show in Broadway history. WICKED, with its multiple productions all over the world, is a musical phenomenon that enchants audiences everywhere it goes.

The mesmerizing musical, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Winnie Holzman, takes audiences to the land of Oz and presents an origin story for the Wicked Witch of the West, named Elphaba. Through unlikely circumstances, Elphaba and Galinda (later Glinda, The Good) become roommates at college. The two women exist on the complete opposite ends of the social and intellectual spectrums, but end up forming a touching and poignant bond of friendship. Through her clever book and his magnificent lyrics, both Winnie Holzman and Stephen Schwartz turn everything we thought we knew about Oz on its head and creates a world loaded with turmoil and political strife that surprisingly reflects our own.

Direction by Joe Mantello, with Lisa Leguillou as Associate Director, is nothing short of phenomenal. They have coached this cast to consistently deliver tangible and heartfelt performances throughout the entire show. Every emotion springs from the stage and washes other the audience, deeply moving us. The story takes place in a distant and fictional land, but Joe Mantello and Lisa Leguillou ensure that every parallel to our own strikes a resonating chord within our hearts, minds, and souls.

Musical Staging by Wayne Cliento, with Corinne McFadden Herrera as Associate Choreographer, is visually dazzling and thrilling. Every movement is purposefully chosen to be similar to Broadway's choreographic aesthetics while being wholly different as well. Within these familiar tropes, audiences will be amazed at the distinctive angles and movements that are entirely bewildering and unlike anything they have seen in other shows. Wayne Cliento sublimely gave Oz it own unique dance language and articulation, and Corinne McFadden Herrera has done an excellent job preserving his impressive work for this tour.

Musical Direction by Valerie Gebert keeps the energy of the performance high and exciting. Under her baton, every tone and pitch is played and sung flawlessly. She expertly guides both the cast and the orchestra through the captivating score, guaranteeing that every performance is bounding with emotionality and of a superior quality.

Staring as Elphaba, Jennifer DiNoia turns out a spellbinding powerhouse performance. She has previously tackled the role in New York City, Chicago, Australia, and Seoul, so it is no surprise that she is truly magnificent in the role. Jennifer DiNoia colors the character, especially in the earlier scenes, with a more robust angst and truthfully makes the role her own. I was most impressed with her rendition of "The Wizard and I," which earnEd Loud, vociferous whoops and thunderous applause at last night's performance. In fact, I enjoyed Jennifer DiNoia's "The Wizard and I" more than any other take I have previously heard on the number. Throughout the entire evening Jennifer DiNoia sings and belts with immaculate passion and power. Her renditions of "I'm Not That Girl," "Defying Gravity," "As Long As You're Mine," "No Good Deed," and "For Good" are all exhilarating and spectacular. Jennifer DiNoia never misses an opportunity to be incredible on stage, and wows the audience with every moment in her character's arc.

Hayley Podschun is adorable and entirely lovable as Glinda. She expertly traverses the arc from spoiled rich girl to seasoned politician. Hayley Podschun's Glinda is just as sparkly and effervescing as her gowns, capturing our hearts with each frilly, ebullient movement and utterance. She builds a fabulously rousing chemistry with Jennifer DiNoia's Elphaba. Their friendship and bond is completely genuine and stunning, making moments like the end of "Dancing Through Life" radiantly beautiful. Morevoer, Hayley Podschun showcases her astounding soprano instrument with this score. She flies into the stratosphere with ethereal lightness that is supported with exceptional strength in "No One Mourns the Wicked" and the "Finale." She digs deep and sumptuously lands on each of the lower alto notes in "I'm Not That Girl (Reprise)." Hayley Podschun's take on "Popular" is delightfully animated and cheerful, and her renditions of "Thank Goodness" and "For Good" are exquisite.

As Fiyero, David Nathan Perlow splendidly brings an undeniable All-American quarterback charm and attitude to the stage, especially during "Dancing Through Life." He perfectly creates a character that is ultra confident and has all the right moves to back it up. As his character matures and grows, David Nathan Perlow subtly releases the shallow and superficial aspects of Fiyero, finding a firm and emotionally rich foundation for the character. His take on "As Long As You're Mine" is deftly romantic, making the audience swoon as much as Elphaba does.

Walker Jones' The Wonderful Wizard of Oz provides audiences with a new and intriguing take on the character. Where I remember the Wizard as being brasher and paying a lot of lip service, I found Walker Jones' portrayal to be wonderfully tinged with pervasive sadness and hopelessness. He seemed lost and unsure of how to escape his situation, making the character more empathetic than previous portrayals. This takes also makes him all the more beguiling and alluring, as he adroitly speaks to our pathos. Walker Jones sings the role with great gusto. His "A Sentimental Man" is lovely, and his "Wonderful" is imbued with an entertaining vaudevillian razz-ma-tazz.

Madame Morrible is brilliantly played by Kathy Fitzgerald. She masterfully mixes whimsy and the cruelty one would expect from a head mistress together, crafting a character that is absorbing and complex. Her vocals on "The Wizard and I" were a true surprise, as she found glorious harmonies and did not talk sing the role as many before her have.

Nessarose, as played by Jenny Fellner, is marvelously biting and acerbic. She layers in voluminous layers of self-induced abject misery into her portrayal of the character, making her bitter and spiteful. However, when she does get her way, Jenny Fellner cleverly allows her Nessarose to glow with glee. Her rendition of "The Wicked Witch of the East" is breathtaking and pristinely delivered.

Alex Wyse's Boq is amazing. Alex Wyse's Boq is the best Boq I have ever seen. He smartly colors the character's awkwardness with shy clumsiness. Moreover, his fantastic tenor instrument shines on numbers like "Dancing Through Life." His impassioned urgency on "The Wicked Witch of the East" easily earns our sympathy and empathy too.

Dashi' Mitchell is impeccable as Chistery. He leaps around the stage with unbelievable athleticism. He astonishes with his ability to maintain a monkey-like stature for long periods of time and to emote in ways that replicate actual primate behaviors.

John Hillner's Doctor Dillamond and the rest of the cast are excellent as well. Each one commits to their roles and performs with passion and zeal to ensure that every moment of WICKED sparkles with charismatic and magical pizzazz.

Scenic Design by Eugene Lee, with Edward Pierce as Associate Set Designer, is beyond extraordinary. For fans of the novel, the stage is made to look like The Clock of the Time Dragon. This ingenious idea is complicated and made all the more mystifying by cunningly utilizing moving cogs and pieces, as each scene seamlessly transitions into the next. Fans of WICKED may notice some slight alterations to this design compared to the First National Tour production, which played Houston the last three times the show was in town. However, these changes do not affect the telling of the story and really only stand out if you look for them.

Kenneth Posner's complex Light Design is eye-popping and intricate. It constantly awes with a luminous mix of old-school techniques and the most sensational tricks that modern special effects lighting has to offer. Every emotion is highlighted by the unrivaled and faultless design, which brilliantly elevates tone and mood from the opening chord of the overture to the final bow of the cast.

Elaine J. McCarthy's Projections are remarkable. They enhance the striking opulence of the production's visuals without ever distracting the audience or taking away from performances.

Susan Hilferty's elaborate and Tony award winning Costume Design is grand and incredibly detailed. Every piece in the design is overwhelmingly lavish, from the countless hand-sewn beads to the accentuated animal anatomies. Likewise, Tom Watson's Wigs & Hair Design is just as ornate and convoluted.

WICKED is truly a perfect show. It's resounding themes of friendship, dreaming, overcoming adversity, and more have given it the staying power it has. Mix in inspired and resplendent doses of virtuosic spectacle, and audiences are gifted with an unparalleled show that moves people on many different levels. WICKED may seem like a fluff piece, but at its core it is an intelligent piece of theatre that deeply satisfies and satiates. There is no denying that WICKED is magically bewitching!

WICKED runs in the Sarofim Hall at The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts through August 11, 2013. Tickets are already scarce, so make haste in visiting http://www.houston-theater.com or calling (800) 302 - 8734 to purchase your tickets to the show. Also, a limited number of $25 orchestra level tickets are available before each performance through the WICKED Ticket Lottery. For more information about the lottery, please click here.

All Photos by Joan Marcus. Courtesy of Broadway Across America - Houston.

Hayley Podschun as Glinda.

Jennifer DiNoia as Elphaba & Hayley Podschun as Glinda.

Hayley Podschun as Glinda & Jennifer DiNoia as Elphaba.

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From This Author David Clarke