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BWW Review: Magical, Memorable WICKED Flies Into TPAC's Jackson Hall for 4-Week Nashville Run

BWW Review: Magical, Memorable WICKED Flies Into TPAC's Jackson Hall for 4-Week Nashville Run

No matter how many times you see Wicked, no matter how many actresses defy gravity to soar as Elphaba or how numerous the renditions of "Popular" you may hear Galinda sing, make absolutely no mistake about it: Wicked is a musical theater masterpiece. Winnie Holzman's engaging book (based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, which was in turn inspired by the original L. Frank Baum story about the wonderful wizard of Oz) and Stephen Schwartz's memorable score ensure that for generations to come, audiences will continue to be dazzled and delighted, thrilled and moved by the story of two very different individuals who become lifelong friends, proving that no obstacles in life are insurmountable.

But I have a sincere plea for Ms. Holzman and Mr. Schwartz (and whoever else holds any sway in these types of things): Please withhold the community theater rights to your spectacular, splendiferous show until sometime after my own demise. The idea of a sub-standard, if well-intentioned, production of Wicked presented in a dank and drafty storefront or a converted church with a support beam in the middle of the room just can't compare - in fact, we suspect, it would detract - to the fantastical and fabulous otherworldly Oz that we've come to know and love thanks to your onstage entertainment. (And, let's face it: How many good years do I really have left? Surely, Wicked will continue to pack 'em in on the Broadway for at least another decade or so...)

BWW Review: Magical, Memorable WICKED Flies Into TPAC's Jackson Hall for 4-Week Nashville Run
Ginna Claire Mason
and Mary Kate Morrissey

Onstage once again at Tennessee Performing Arts Center's Andrew Jackson Hall in Nashville, Wicked continues to win over new fans, adding to the throngs of supporters who find something new to love with each subsequent viewing of the show that seems to always touch the heart. Even for a cynical and wizened reviewer, with at least five Wickeds under his belt, responded with heartfelt gasps and tear-stained cheeks as the story unfolded, while next to me sat a young married couple experiencing the play for the first time, awestruck by the beauty of the tale and transfixed by its performance in front of them. In short, Wicked once again proves as magical as it was the very first time, perhaps even more so in these truly troubled times in which we live.

While the tenor of the times may provide an explanation - or perhaps it is because Ginna Claire Mason, the young Nashville woman-turned-Glinda the Good for this noteworthy national tour - of the show's continued popularity in Music City (where we know a thing or two about musical theater, to be honest), we'd like to think it's the impact of Wicked as an artistic endeavor or the tremendous energy and focus of the current tour cast that sets it apart from the steady flow of shows from Broadway to the American provinces. Whatever it is, rest assured, gentle readers, Wicked still packs an emotional wallop and you'd be doing yourself a favor to see it again - or for the very first time.

BWW Review: Magical, Memorable WICKED Flies Into TPAC's Jackson Hall for 4-Week Nashville Run
Mary Kate Morrissey, Jody Gelb and Ginna Claire Mason

Whether you're seeing it with fresh eyes or from the perspective of repeated viewings, it really makes no difference. The story of the two young women (Elphaba, played by Mary Kate Morrissey, and Glinda [the perky blonde previously known as Galinda "with a Gah..."], played by the aforementioned Ginna Claire Mason) who meet at university only to have an instant dislike for each other, but who ultimately overcome their own preconceived notions and social barriers to become the very dearest of friends, is universal. At once complex and multi-dimensional only to be revealed as simple and straightforward, the relationship of Elphie and Glinda is something we can all recognize. Eminently relatable and heartrending, the growing affection between the two - and the outside elements that conspire to drive them apart - gives each of us much to think about even while being transfixed by the onstage spectacle and theatrical wizardry that sets Wicked apart.

BWW Review: Magical, Memorable WICKED Flies Into TPAC's Jackson Hall for 4-Week Nashville Run
Mary Kate Morrissey and Ginna Claire Mason

Thanks to the two women's rather original take on their characters - even while Morrissey's Elphaba is as steadfastly independent and sweetly vulnerable as any other portrayal we've encountered, she somehow seems to make the role her own, while Mason's Glinda, while still inspired by the original performance of Kristin Chenoweth in what is perhaps her career-defining role, seems somehow free from caricature or mimicry, instead offering a fresh characterization of her very own choosing - ensures that the power of Wicked to transform and transfix remains unfettered and constant, yet somehow new and original. Maybe it's our own memory failing us, but some of the laughs seem more organic, and the heart-tugging moments more potent.

For whatever reason, though, Wicked is enormously entertaining in the same way every iconic musical theater offering should be and it is powerful in a way that only the very best - the veritable crème de la crème - of musical theater aspires to be. If you don't leave the theater after curtain call with a new spirit in your heart, a stereotypical spring to your step as it were, you most likely have something ailing you that no musical can fix. With a four-week Nashville run at TPAC from which to choose a show date, audiences will have ample opportunity to see for themselves what all the hubbub is about (come to think of it, I'd go back again in a heartbeat!).

BWW Review: Magical, Memorable WICKED Flies Into TPAC's Jackson Hall for 4-Week Nashville RunMorrissey's performance of "Defying Gravity" is as emotionally charged as any we've heard and as Elphaba makes her ascent toward the western skies, you cannot help but feel your own spirits soar, and her heartrending duet with Mason to "For Good" might leave you awash in grateful tears thanks to this anthem to love, loyalty and friendship. "I'm Not That Girl" affords Morrissey another heartfelt opportunity to reveal layers of Elphaba's personality (and "The Wizard and I" displays yet another equally significant part), while Glinda's second act reprise of the tune again proves its import. "As Long as You're Mine," the Act Two duet for Elphaba and Fiyero (played with swashbuckling, self-deprecating elan and altogether matinee-idol charm by Jon Robert Hall) is romantic and lush, while Hall introduces himself in Act One with the spirited "Dancing Through Life" that never fails to delight.

BWW Review: Magical, Memorable WICKED Flies Into TPAC's Jackson Hall for 4-Week Nashville Run
Jon Robert Hall

"Dancing Through Life" helps to focus the spotlight on the company's impressively talented ensemble who show off Wayne Cilento's choreography and musical staging to perfection, as does "One Short Day," which offers an awe-inspiring welcome to the Emerald City, a harbinger to the dramatic turn of events that follow Elphaba and Glinda's introduction to the man behind the curtain, Tom McGowan's duplicitous and conniving Wizard.

BWW Review: Magical, Memorable WICKED Flies Into TPAC's Jackson Hall for 4-Week Nashville Run
Tom McGowan

McGowan's wealth of stage experience makes certain the Wizard's presence is strongly felt, while Jody Gelb, fresh from her run in the Broadway cast, gives a startling, spine-tingling performance as Madame Morrible, the Madame DeFarge of this particular piece, whose ability to reinvent herself is particularly prescient, if oddly disquieting, in the Trump era. Catherine Charlebois is ideally cast as the manipulative Nessa Rose (destined to end up under a wayward Kansas farmhouse) and Cole Doman is sweetly obvious as the lovestruck Boq (who ends up cold and alone). Chad Jennings is impressive as Doctor Dillamond and Chase Madigan delivers a touching performance as Chistery, the most ardent of Elphaba's flying monkeys.

Eugenia Lee's scenic design is eye poppingly gorgeous, while Susan Hilferty's costumes enrobe the actors in all manner of imaginative garb and Kenneth Posner's lighting illuminates the onstage action with sublimely atmospheric shadows and light. Music director Adam Souza conducts his orchestra - his five-member traveling ensemble is augmented and enriched by the presence of 11 of Nashville's finest players - with finesse, making sure that Christopher Jahnke's adaptations of William David Brohn's original orchestrations are evocatively performed.

Wicked. Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Book by Winnie Holzman. Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire. Directed by Joe Mantello. Musical staging by Wayne Cilento. Music supervision by Stephen Oremus. Original music arrangements by Alex Lacamoire and Stephen Oremus. At Tennessee Performing Arts Center's Andrew Jackson Hall, Nashville. Through April 22. For details, go to www.TPAC.org. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes (with one 20-minute intermission).

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From This Author Jeffrey Ellis

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