In this one, rare case, it's completely all right to believe the hype; Wicked really is that good.
The Broadway musical stormed through Tulsa last week, kicking off a three-week, 32-performance run inside the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's Chapman Music Hall. Producers of the musical's North American tour, presented locally by Celebrity Attractions, have assembled a superb cast, as adept at storytelling as they are singing, which is really what makes the show so fantastic.
Adapted for the stage by composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz and book writer Winnie Holzman from Gregory Maquire's novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Wicked catapults the audience into the land of Oz, before Dorothy dropped in, and tells L. Frank Baum's 1900 story from a darker, more cynical vantage point--one that could only belong to someone whose ill fate began at birth.
The tale is told from the perspective of Elphaba, who is later known as the Wicked Witch of the West (Marcie Dodd). Her name is a nod to the original Wonderful Wizard of Oz creator.
Elphaba has suffered a life of solitude and despair, shunned by her widower father and an embarrassment to her sister Nessarose (Kristine Reese) because, not only is she a little bit gauche and socially awkward, but also because she's green. Literally.
Her father, the Governor of Munchkinland (Don Richard) sends both of his daughters Old Shiz, the wizard university, and there Madame Morrible (Marilyn Caskey) takes special notice of both girls--Nessarose because she's in a wheelchair and the beloved daughter of the governor and Elphaba because she is surprisingly gifted at wizardry.
Of the other students, one more also stands out: Galinda (Helene Yorke), a perky and popular blonde who's grown, ahem, accustomed to getting her way.
Immediately she approached Madame Morrible about inclusion into the teacher's private lessons but is quickly rebuffed and, during a second attempt to get the woman's attention, accidentally volunteers to share her private room with Elphaba.
The two girls despise one another. And both are attracted to a new student, the cavalier Fiyero (Colin Donnell), who breezes into Old Shiz and immediately makes it his ambition to impart his carefree way of living onto his fellow students. Galinda falls for him immediately.
Galinda has a reputation for being "good," but, as the audience quickly discovers, most of her good deeds are born out of selfishness and spite. In that spirit, she offers Elphaba a hideous-looking hat disguised as a gift, and when Elphaba shows up to a party wearing it, looking ridiculous, but proceeds to dance anyway--alone and without music--Galinda feels guilty and joins her. It's the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Madame Morrible arranges a meeting between The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Tom McGowan) and Elphaba, Galinda accompanying, but Elphaba quickly learns that the Wizard has no power at all and simply wants to use her to help carry out his discriminatory regime. When she refuses, Morrible and the Wizard dub her "Wicked," and commence a witch hunt.
Elphaba, rather than attempt to clear her name, embraces the moniker and sets out to battle the Wizard and his plot.
In Act Two, some time has passed. Galinda, who changed her name to "Glinda" as homage to her professor, Doctor Dillamond (David De Vries), who was fired for being a goat, and Madame Morrible have convened for a press conference to announce her engagement to Fiyero, much to his surprise.
Elphaba, who has not been seen since her stand against the Wizard, has returned to Munchkinland to seek refuge from the governor, now her sister. Upset that Elphaba has not used her power to help her or enable her to walk, Nessarose lashes out at her sister, and in retaliation, Elphaba casts a spell on her jeweled shoes, turning them a ruby red and giving her the ability to walk.
Her good deed backfires though when Nessarose, rebuffed by her Munchin servant/one true love, shrinks his heart and turns him into tin.
She blames the act on Elphaba, further solidifying her status as "wicked."
It is through further mishaps and tragedy that Elphaba decides life isn't worth living and to end it all. In the end, the one good thing she ever had going for her was her unlikely friendship with Glinda.
It's a powerful and heartwarming story, at once humorous and sentimental. And there are plenty of stage stunts and pyrotechnics to keep the audience saying "wow."
In fact, the first note I made was, "Wow, what a production!"
But, what really makes Wicked so enjoyable are the nearly perfect performances by Yorke and Dodd. The women are as different as can be but compliment each other perfectly, and the scenes they share are the best of the entire productions. "What Is This Feeling?" and "Popular" had me holding my sides while also marveling at the sheer talent both women possess.
They complement each other wonderfully, Yorke light and airy, both in style and in singing, next to her darkly grounded counterpart. The chemistry between them is marvelous and the friendship warm and convincing. So much of the show depends on these two women and their ability to connect with the audience, present characters who are human--both good, both wicked, both with faults and flaws but who are supremely likeable in spite of those. And each does it beautifully. We need to feel for these women and to fall in love with them--and we do.
The supporting cast is also marvelous, and the complete package was tied up in a little bow and handed to an audience overjoyed to receive it. That was one of the things that made the production so enjoyable--seeing a packed Chapman Hall giddy and writhing with laughter and excitement.
Tickets to Wicked are still available. Remaining performances are today through Aug. 9. There will be a signed performances on Aug. 2 at 2pm. Tickets are $28-$75 at www.tulsapac.com.
Celebrity Attractions recently announced a ticket lottery for each performance. A day-of-performance lottery for a limited number of orchestra seats will be held daily for the musical.
Each day, two and a half hours prior to show time, each person who presents himself at the Tulsa PAC ticket office will have his name placed in a lottery drum, and then 30 minutes later, names will be drawn for a limited number of orchestra seats at $25 each, cash only.
This lottery is available only in-person at the ticket office and is limited to two tickets per person.
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