BWW Review: The National Tour of WICKED Is Wizardry In Action
In one sense, WICKED is the epitome of a Broadway blockbuster, possessed of all the elements that generate roaring and adoring crowds such as those welcoming the 15-year-old phenom, directed by Joe Mantello, to a month-long run at ASU Gammage's stage.
Spectacular production quality! Eugene Lee's awesome set design ~ a bold and expansive clockwork configuration meant to conjure up travel back in time to the days before Dorothy Hale's house crashed in Oz. Kenneth Posner's spot on dramatic lighting. Susan Hilferty's lavish costumes, a dazzling display of wardrobe imagination. James Lynn Abbott's electrifying choreography marched by an ensemble that danced gloriously to his tempos. Stephen Schwartz's clever and poetic musical score, conducted by Adam Souza.
Then, of course, there are the whimsical characters played with flair and perfection by an outstanding cast, led by Erin Mackey as Glinda the Good Witch and Mariand Torres as Elfaba, the Wicked Witch of the West.
As the Ozian legend has progressed through multiple adaptations ~ from the first of Frank L. Baum's Oz books, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to the 1939 film classic and then to Gregory Maguire's novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West and the musical version for which Winnie Holzman's book has received well-deserved acclaim ~ so too have its characters and the themes of their stories.
Maguire's grand device is offering backstories of secondary characters that oft go unrevealed in the main storyline. (Clever creatives have made a cottage industry of such variations on themes and prequels. Think about Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead!)
Have we not wondered about the lives of the witches of Oz and how authority was divided along the points of a compass? Where in the world did the Tin Man and the Scarecrow come from? Why is Elfaba as green as an artichoke? What's with the flying monkeys?
As WICKED's story spins out, fantastic answers to these burning questions are revealed. But, more to the point, we are confronted with a paradox ~ that what we discern as evil (that is, wicked!) is not as black and white a proposition as we thought.
Thus, in another and deeper sense, WICKED is allegory, waving a wand at eternal questions about those two controversial sides of the same coin, good and evil.
It falls to Glinda, portrayed by Mackey with delightfully ditzy and bubbly Valley girl-style self-infatuation, to tell the curious Ozians about Elfaba's background after her untimely demise.
Glinda's account flashes back to Elfaba's accursed green-skinned birth, the result of her mother's unseemly and intoxicating affair with "A Sentimental Man" and then to her enrollment with her wheelchair-bound sister Nessarose (Mili Diaz) at Shiz University where she is unceremoniously assigned by headmistress Madam Morrible (the exuberant Sharon Sachs) to room with Glinda.
Elfaba is the prototypical outsider and outcast, spurned by students who measure her by the color of her skin and not the content of her character. (For those who love trivia, the name is the phonetic pronunciation of Baum's initials, LFB.)
On the one hand, she possesses a unique and magical gift that endears her to Madam Morrible who, hoping to leverage her powers of sorcery, gifts Elfaba with an ancient book of spells called the Grimmerie.
On the other hand, Elfaba's innate sensitivity to discrimination makes her an ideal champion against intolerance, outraged by discrimination against a rather unusual professor (Tom Flynn), and a fierce fighter on behalf of the animals whose voices are to be silenced by order of the Wizard of Oz (Jason Graae). Having willfully opposed the Wizard's nefarious schemes, Elfaba becomes the enemy of the state ~ the wicked witch, to be apprehended and brought to injustice.
Mariand Torres is terrific as Elfaba, stoic and determined to fight for what is just and right. She is a commanding presence on the stage, a perfect counterpart to Glinda's crystalline presence ~ bedecked in black and topped with the iconic peaked hat.
There are the love interests, too, that add to the musical's flavor ~ Fiyero (Curt Hansen), an impressionable prince whose heart beats for both Glinda and Elfaba; and then there's Boq (Michael Wartella) the Munchkin, who courts Nessarose (at Glinda's sly bidding!) while yearning for Glinda.
Beyond all the plaudits here, there is one additional shout-out worthy of mention ~ that being Mr. Graae's showman's sterling rendition of A Sentimental Man.
There's so much juicy content in this work ~ particularly, the bolt-out-of-the blue reveal about Elfaba's parentage! ~ that no wonder audiences are inclined to revisit it again and again. So, revisit it, if you will. If you're a first-timer, bring friends. If you're a parent, bring the kids.
WICKED runs through May 5th at ASU Gammage in Tempe, AZ.
Poster credit to WICKED
1200 S. Forest Avenue, Tempe, AZ ~ on the campus of Arizona State University
Box Office: 480-965-3434