note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Susan Daniels
It’s a shame “Wicked,” running at The Opera House through the middle of May, lacks the essential ingredient of a truly effective musical. And that’s the music. Composed by Stephen Shwartz of “Godspell” and “Pippin” fame, the melodies are, by and large, instantly forgettable, though the enthusiastic crowd at the second press night didn’t seem to care.
The only number that lingers after the last bow is “Defying Gravity,” the closing first act powerhouse of a production where Elphaba, the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West, literally rises about 20 feet above the cast and audience in an eye-popping shimmer of crisscrossed lighting. With her bountiful skirt of green material practically swallowing up the space, the visual impact is stunning and an equal match to Schwartz’s lyrics, which herald Elphaba’s omnipotent witchiness.
Fortunately, there’s more to a Broadway musical, where “Wicked” opened over two years ago to sold-out houses and flurry of major honors, including a Grammy and three Tony Awards, than solely the music. And that’s where the show casts its magic.
As the smart, fiery and misunderstood Elphaba, Julia Murney turns in a bewitching performance, serving up credibility, charisma, and a range in vocal chords any singer would die for. At the second press night, Emily Rozek, normally part of the ensemble, performed the role of the beautiful and popular Glinda, the bubbly, perky, ambitious, blond Good Witch. Offering a 180 degree contrast to her co-star, it was a nice match, no doubt, drawn from the successful pairing of Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel, the two ladies of the stage who starred in the original production.
Adapted from Gregory Maguire’s unconventional retelling of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 classic, “The Wizard of Oz,” the show depicts the back story of the two witches long before Dorothy drops into Emerald City. “Wicked” relays the tale of their unusual journey, beginning as roommates at Shiz University, where they are instantly repelled from one another. Of course, in the grand tradition of the American musical, the book, by “My So Called Life” writer Winnie Holzman, portrays the two protagonists finding common ground and learning to love each other, before embarking on their separate paths.
With a solid cast, the two hour and 45 minute production, smoothly directed by Tony Award winner Joe Mantello (“Take Me Out”), races along themes teeming with religious and political strife in alternately campy and melodramatic fashion.
Though the show doesn’t cast much of a spell, there is undeniable magic in Eugene Lee’s set, which displays the prophetic Clock of the Time Dragon from the book, massively poised above the proscenium, with electronic eyes flashing and wings soaring.
There’s also a certain degree of wizardry in Susan Hilferty’s costumes, a jumble of period hoop skirts, headgear, bustles, and decorative accents. Unfortunately, due to the darker themes of the show, Kenneth Posner’s lighting was so muted that it was impossible to see the vibrant colors in the cast’s costumes until their bows when the lights were brought up.
With flying monkeys, smoky dry ice, and the Wizard’s behind-the-scene shenanigans, there’s much to behold in this mammoth production. If only “Wicked” had a true heart and brain, rather than the spectacle du jour it is, than the courage to think out of the box might have been more appealing by presenting a musical with a true soul instead of just puffery. - 30 -
“Wicked, through May 14; The Opera House,Boston. Tickets are $30 - $90 and $132.50 for premium seating. For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 617-931-2787.