note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
A mammoth, red-eyed, fire-breathing metal dragon is perched menacingly above the stage, his wingspan as large as that of a Cessna 172. The monster is the harbinger of three exciting hours to come, complete with a dazzling sight and sound array, an ominous set that winks and blinks, spins wheels, flies monkeys and witches, and spotlights a large cast of colorful characters in wildly creative costumes.
Throughout the national touring show of “Wicked,” currently appearing at the Boston Opera House, the audience is swept back to the fabled land of Oz, in a flashback that musically tells a surprising tale of L. Frank Baum’s main characters in “The Wizard of Oz,” and gives new meaning to the word wicked, especially in its description of the Wicked Witches of the East and West.
Winnie Holzman’s book and Stephen Schwartz’s music and lyrics,with its humorous dialogue and nuances, shine in this multi-award winning stage adaptation of Massachusetts writer Gregory Maguire’s best-selling novel he penned in 1995; and the play has taken the US, Japan, England, Australia and Germany by storm. In fact, seven years after its debut in 2003, “Wicked,” the winner of 35 awards, including a Grammy and three Tonys, is still enjoying enormous success, with two nationally touring companies performing simultaneously, while other countries continue to welcome it to its stages. Another version will open in Holland next year.
Although the plot appears to be a clever farce or takeoff on Baum’s beloved book, it has a serious, poignant side that combines fable, science fiction, murky politics,human rights activism, and reverse character contrasts that shine through this lively cast’s fine acting, singing and dancing. The dialogue is rich with pithy double entendres, snappy, glib phrases, tongue twisters, and malapropisms, such as “congratulotions” and “disrespectation”.
Tony Award-winning designer Eugene Lee’s spectacular set and stage effects, thanks to lighting designer Kenneth Posner and sound designer Tony Meola, along with Susan Hilferty’s quirky costumes, and gigantic gizmos, are eye-popping bonuses.
Jackie Burns as emerald green-skinned Elphaba, the gifted young witch who is taunted and shunned by everyone, including her father, for being “different,” is touching, her lovely clear voice ringing powerfully in her solos, “I’m Not That Girl” and “No Good Deed (goes unpunished)”. The young, misunderstood witch, who is an intelligent environmentalist and animal activist, changes during her friendship with egotistical, self-absorbed, spoiled, blonde, Galinda, (whom you recognize as Glinda the Good), and together, they are outstanding. As Galinda, dressed in glittery blue garb and crown, ascends and descends to the stage, floating in a circular, bubble-making orb, she is an ethereal foil to Elphaba, wielding and flying her straw broom, dressed in a pointed black hat, cloak and dress. Chandra Lee Schwartz radiates as vapid, popular and politically correct Galinda - “the Ga is silent”- Good. We know that opposites attract, but who’d ever believe these two political foils could become best friends and secretly protective of each other, despite their loving the same man, Fiyero, the playboy, (nicely portrayed by tenor Richard H. Blake). Blake and Burns are charming in their duet, “As Long As You’re Mine”.
Despite her newfound magical powers, Elphaba has dedicated her life to good causes, such as protecting animals who formerly had human abilities to speak and teach. However, the powerless Wizard (Richard Kline) and school headmistress/sorcery teacher/wizard’s press secretary, Madame Morrible, (Randy Danson) have captured and suppressed the animals, claiming one must have an enemy or scapegoat in order to achieve power and greatness.
Elphaba also cares for her sweet-natured sister, Nessarose, (Michelle London), who has been disabled since birth. Although Elphaba chants a spell from sorcery bible, The Grimmerie, making Nessarose able to walk, Nessarose becomes embittered because of unrequited love, and earns the title, Wicked Witch of the East.
The evolution of the Tin Man, cowardly Lion and Scarecrow are also revealed.
As personalities and plots twist and unfold, the play intensifies, with flying monkeys, brilliant radiating rays of light, and a scrim, behind which Elphaba allegedly evaporates into a puff of smoke.
Kudos also to the terrific combination of 18 traveling and local musicians, capably led by company conductor P. Jason Yarcho.
Give the family an early Christmas gift and see “Wicked” - it’s wicked good.
BOX INFO: Two-act, three-hour musical, book by Winnie Holzman, music, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, based on Gregory Maguire’s novel, appearing now through October 17 at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington St., Boston. Performances are Tuesday-Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2,8 p.m.; and Sunday, 2,7:30 p.m. Tickets are $38-$108; VIP tickets start at $178. Call Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787; visit www.broadwayacrossamerica.com/boston or www.Ticketmaster.com/Wicked; or the Opera House and Colonial Theatre box offices.