BWW Review: WICKED: A STORY FOR OUR TIMES at Broadway San Jose
Broadway San Jose opened is 2019-2020 season with the incomparable Wicked, which tells the story of Glinda and Elphaba in the Land of Oz right before, but also during the time that Dorothy arrives on the scene. How the two witches -- who first meet as roommates at Shiz University -- eventually become Glinda the Good and the Wicked Witch of the West respectively, will leave you in awe. With a book by Winnie Holzman and music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Wicked first opened on Broadway in 2003, and though its tale of friendship and love is key, ultimately, it's a story about those who are used or scapegoated for being different - something it seems we're all coming to grips with these days. Playing now through September 8, Broadway San Jose's Wicked is a dazzling, deeply satisfying bucket list musical for Broadway aficionados of every age.
Wicked flew onto the Broadway stage in 2003 and is now celebrating its 15th anniversary on Broadway. Playwright Winnie Holzman's Ozian story about the two witches is imbued with wit and whimsy and huge doses of comedy that serve to balance the deeper messages and darker themes of the show. One of the driving storylines is about the animals of Oz. They can talk and are on par with humans, that is, until they're scapegoated and caged (for the first time,) and no longer allowed to speak. But more on that shortly.
Erin Mackey's Glinda provides much of the comic relief. When she and Elphaba first arrive at "Dear Old Shiz" Glinda is a bubbly, self-absorbed and ditsy blonde who's clearly gotten by on her looks alone. Her mannerisms, including tossing her blonde locks to get male attention, bring knowing laughs from the audience.
Not to be outdone is Mariand Torres as Elphaba, the awkwardly 'greenifed' girl who doesn't fit in anywhere she goes, especially in the dorm room she shares with the giddy Glinda. The blonde beauty is funny because she fails to see herself as she is, whereas Elphaba's humor is self-deprecating. She's highly aware that she's an outsider, both there at Shiz and in her own family. In fact, she only really got to come to Shiz as a chaperone to her wheelchair-bound sister Nessarose (played perfectly by Amanda Fallon Smith). It's when Elphaba's untamed talent for sorcery becomes known to Shiz's headmistress Madame Morrible (Sharon Sachs is wonderful in this plumb role), that things start to change for the green girl. Perhaps her talent will help her get to see the Wizard.
Meanwhile, the students attend classes with Dr. Dillamond (Tom Flynn), the last remaining animal teacher. He explains to them that after the great drought, the question became "Whom can we blame?" The answer was easy - the animals. Things that are only talked about in hushed tones are always worrisome and it's safe to say that "Something Bad is Happening in Oz."
When heartthrob Fiyero (the charmingly handsome Curt Hansen) finds his way to dear Old Shiz, Glinda and Elphaba both fall for him. Guess who gets him? In one of the most touching and vulnerable songs of the show "I'm Not That Girl," Elphaba achingly acknowledges her pain. "Blithe smile, lithe limb/She who's winsome, she wins him...I'm not that girl."
But like the twister that brings Dorothy to Oz, there are unexpected twists and turns in this wondrous tale told in song. Stephen Schwartz' musical genius is readily apparent in Wicked (and in his substantial catalogue of work). He creates a cohesive, overarching story through song, while at the same time fitting each character with a musical styling that speaks volumes about them individually. Glinda's songs are light, airy and self-absorbed while the musical flow of Elphaba's songs resonate at a more serious level. We know how to feel about each character just by the tone and timbre of the music. Of course, the lyrics are a huge part of that, but the music gets you at a deeper level.
Elphaba's world is turned upside down when she finally meets the Wizard (a droll and sly Jason Graae) and realizes, like Dorothy will, that he really has no power. And in fact, he needs her power to read the Grimmerie, a book of spells that will allow him to turn the monkeys into winged spies and report any subversive animal activity.
It is in the deceptively light number "Wonderful" that the Wizard reveals his true nature.
"I knew who I was, /One of your dime a dozen mediocrates / Then suddenly I'm here, respected, worshipped even / Just because the folks in Oz needed someone to believe in."
When Elphaba asks him if he lied to the people, he says, "Only verbally. Besides, they were the lies they wanted to hear."
Throughout every age hucksters and charlatans abound. But when they're given the privilege of serving in the highest office in the land - in this case, Oz - then decisions must be made by others with power. Elphaba and Glinda must grapple with where their values lie and each witch must live with the consequences of her decision. Their unlikely friendship and the power of love make for great story-telling.
At its emotional core, Wicked is about what happens when authoritarian duplicity creates scapegoats out of outsiders and those deemed "other," as well as the tension it puts on friends and lovers.
It certainly is a story for our times so make your way down the yellow brick road and go see Wicked at Broadway San Jose.
Now thru September 8, 2019
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts
Broadway San Jose
Book by Winnie Holzman
Music and lyrics by the great and powerful Stephen Schwartz
Photos courtesy of Joan Marcus