Review: Thank Goodness for WICKED at Mirvish's Princess of Wales Theatre

The fan favourite show offers the perfect combination of spectacle and heart.

By: Jun. 09, 2024
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Review: Thank Goodness for WICKED at Mirvish's Princess of Wales Theatre
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The North American tour of the hit Broadway Musical WICKED has finally returned to Toronto and whether you have seen it before or are experiencing it for the first time, this current cast has something very special to offer! Audiences can rest assured that with excellent performances and hit songs like Popular and Defying Gravity, they are guaranteed to get the story, the music and the spectacle that has made this musical so beloved  – but beyond that, those who have seen this show more than once will also appreciate that these performers make these roles their own. To a person, this cast brings fresh and poignant choices to their roles, leading to some truly special moments.

Inspired by the Gregory Maguire novel of the same name, WICKED tells the “true” story of the witches of Oz – Glinda the ‘Good Witch’ and Elphaba, the famously green ‘Wicked Witch of the West.’ With Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and Book by Winnie Holzman, this musical remains incredibly 'popular.'

The tagline for WICKED is “A whole lot happened before Dorothy dropped in” and it is often described as a prequel to the story we know from The Wizard of Oz. This is true of Act 1, but there comes a point in Act 2 where the two stories are actually happening simultaneously and we get to glimpse behind the curtain and see the events from a new point of view. This is a story about friendship, what it means to be "good," the power in being different, and the courage and sacrifice in standing up for what one believes in.

The social and political relevance of this musical seems evergreen (pun intended). Through the strategic use of fear, misinformation, and propaganda, our protagonist, Elphaba is painted as the enemy as a way for the Wizard to maintain the status quo in Oz. As the Wizard so aptly points out in the song Wonderful, we humans struggle with moral ambiguity and history is written by those who control the narrative. Throughout the show, we see both Elphaba and Glinda struggle with this in very different ways - Elphaba as the 'other' who is fighting against the misinformation, and Glinda who is wrestling with her own sense of morality. This show is flashy and funny and has incredible music, but it also holds so many deeply relatable themes.

Last week, BWW had the privilege of speaking with the two leads about their characters. Given how thoughtful and interesting those conversations were, it is no surprise that their performances offer beautiful layers to these women. At it’s core, this musical is about their friendship. This focus on a female friendship is a rarity in musical theatre.

Lauren Samuels brings a sort of quiet strength to the role of Elphaba that I haven’t quite seen before. We see Elphaba’s hopes get dashed a few times early in the play and she brushes herself off and handles it with a stiff upper lip in a way that we get the sense that she has dealt with this for her entire life. As the stakes get higher, and her cause becomes bigger than herself, so do her reactions. This slow burn into an absolutely epic, and quite frankly, terrifying (in the best way) performance of No Good Deed is worth the ticket price alone!

As Glinda, Austen Danielle Bohmer is delightful. She had my attention immediately at the top of the show, when I swear she gives a subtle nod to Billie Burke's Wizard of Oz Glinda with the inflections in her voice on the line "The Wicked Witch of the West is dead." Perhaps this similarity was just coincidence, but it made me smile. There is a charming quirkiness to Bohmer's Glinda that is very appealing. Outwardly, her Glinda is confident and self-assured, but inwardly, she becomes less and less so as she is faced with moral and ethical dilemmas that she had previously been shielded from. We see Glinda receive the platform and influence she always dreamed of and then we witness her wrestle with the cost of it. Bohmer shared with BWW that one of her favourite moments in the show is when she performs Thank Goodness at the top of Act 2. In this number, Glinda is processing everything she is feeling whilst also trying to satisfy the masses. Bohmer sounds great, and her acting in this moment is superb. When Madame Morrible begins to slander Elphaba's name, the situation is quite literally becoming harder and harder for Glinda to swallow and we see a visible gulp from her. Bohmer also brings the laughs with this role. I particularly enjoyed a peptalk/lecture she gives her training wand in the middle of Popular.

The previously mentioned friendship between Elphaba and Glinda is gorgeously depicted by Samuels and Bohmer as well. Near the end of the show, Bohmer makes a lovely little choice involving a nod to Elphaba’s hat – and to the night Elphaba got that hat. This immediately links the moment they are in with a moment they share in Act 1 that is, not at all coincidentally, the one other time in the show where these two characters fully see one another. It’s a brilliant, and incredibly moving choice, and whether a Witch melts after this scene or not, audience members almost certainly will!

The entire cast is excellent – Xavier McKinnon is charming as Fiyero. His voice is like butter, he has great chemistry with both witches, and he portrays his character’s personal journey beautifully. Erica Ito finds every bit of nuance in her performance as Elphaba’s sister, Nessarose. This is a character who is underwritten, but who has a fascinating arc. Ito serves this complex character well, even in scenes where she doesn’t have much to say. Alex Vinh is loveable as Boq. We see the chip on his shoulder grow as he is constantly cast aside, and although we may not always agree with the decisions Boq makes, Vinh’s performance certainly allows us to understand them. Kingsley Leggs’ Dr. Dillamond has great mentor/mentee chemistry with Samuels’ Elphaba, Aymee Garcia’s Madame Morrible is delectably terrifying, and quite frankly, so is Blake Hammond’s Wizard. This character is typically not as outwardly scary as Morrible, but on a few occasions upon his first meeting with Elphaba, Hammond’s Wizard casts some nefarious looks the Green Girl’s way when she isn’t looking, and it creates an unease that works very well building up to the reveal before Defying Gravity.

The ensemble is also fantastic. Whether they are Shiz students, Emerald City luminaries, flying monkeys, or a mob of angry Ozians – they are the pulse of this show and their musicality and athleticism cannot be lauded enough. Special shoutout to the Guard who gives the best “goat on the lamb” line-read I have ever seen in my multiple viewings of this musical.

Also deserving of acknowledgement, is the crew of this massive production. Watching giant backdrops and set pieces move on and off stage, seeing the lifts and wire work, and being greeted by the giant Time Dragon Clock as I step into the theatre, I begin to think of the hours of meticulous work it must take loading this show in and out of theatres at each stop on tour – not to mention making sure everything is in working order and everyone is safe. This is a beast of a show both in terms of the performances we see on stage and in the backstage magic that makes it all happen.

Speaking of magic, WICKED has something for audiences of all ages, from all walks of life, and with all levels of familiarity with 'Oz'. Even if you have never seen WICKED before, you have almost certainly heard some of the music and you likely are at least somewhat familiar with the plot simply because there is so much reference to The Wizard of Oz. As grand and exciting as the overall spectacle is, what has this show celebrating 20 years on Broadway, is in these nuanced characters and their unique friendship. That is what has loyal fans returning to see it time and time again. Well...that, and the best Act 1 finale in all of musical theatre!

WICKED is currently playing at Mirvish's Princess of Wales Theatre until July 21st.

Photo: Lauren Samuels as Elphaba in the National Tour of WICKED. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus 2024




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