Are we who we think we are or who others say we are?
That is the question asked throughout the Broadway sensation WICKED.
This isn’t your mother’s Wizard of Oz. Instead, this is the prequel, how the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch came to be based on the novel written by Gregory Marguire.
Vicki Noon soars as Elphaba, a green-hued, intelligent and thoughtful girl who feels something but can’t quite put her finger on it. She stands up to indifference and discrimination having lived with it all of her life.
Noon captures the anger and shame of someone misunderstood, which she shares with the audience through her soulful interpretation of Stephen Schwartz’s lyrics. And when Elphaba stands up for the animals of Oz or to her flighty roommate Galinda, Noons powerful voice fills Uhlein Hall, holding notes long after the orchestra has faded.
Galinda, portrayed by Natalie Daradich, is the popular girl who has never heard the word no. She is spoiled and bratty and Daradich conveys the character with the whiny soprano of an vapid, soulless Barbie.
Noon and Daradich’s voices blend perfectly in “What is This Feeling,” where the two characters describe their hatred for each other. At this point in the show it is not hard to understand Elphaba’s loathing of her empty-headed roommate, through the humorous lyrics.
As Galinda describes Elphaba to her father as “Unusually and exceedingly peculiar and altogether quite impossible to describe,” Elphaba sums Galinda up in one word, “Blonde.”
As with all women, a man comes between them. Fiyero, is the empty headed boy who arrives at school starry-eyed for Galinda. But when Elphaba protests the oppression of the animals, Fiyero realizes there is more to this green girl than her looks.
There is something more to Elphaba and the Wizard wants it. But when he uses her good intentions against her, she rebels and is deemed wicked by the press. As a member of the fourth estate it was not hard to believe the impact repeated negative press can have on a person’s psyche. By now, Elphaba has harnessed her inner powers and evades capture by defying gravity with a little help from the amazing stage lighting and special effects.
Back from intermission, Elphaba is on the run and Glinda (she has changed her name in solidarity with the animals, hoping Fiyero would be impressed) has been installed as the happiness officer in Oz. Glinda willingly accepts her designation as “good,” and allows the public and leaders to brand her friend “wicked.” But her conscious bothers her and it is obvious by the darkness in her voice that she has changed and matured.
After the familiar points in the Oz story – a girl and her house fall on Elphaba’s sister and the Ozians go on a wicked witch hunt – Elphaba and Glinda are reunited one last time “For Good,” where both realize they are who they are, but they have to live their labels.
I won’t say anymore, lest I spoil the surprise ending. But while on the way to the end, there are enough little references to the 1939 MGM classic “The Wizard of Oz,” to keep fans of the original happy. We are even given answers to the question – where did the tin man, cowardly lion and scarecrow come from?
Since this was the traveling Broadway company, the costumes were over the top in scale and color, the hair and make-up fanciful and odd and the dancing top notch. Only two shortcomings in the production bothered this reviewer – follow spot lighting which lagged behind the actors and a pit orchestra which overpowered the company productions. Happily, the musicians lowered the volume for the solos and duets by the main characters, allowing the storyline to move ahead clearly.
WICKED is one of the most popular Broadway shows of all time and has won Grammy and Tony accolades. It is easy to see the appeal, first as a back story to a beloved American story and second, as a relatable character play between who we are and who others think we are.
WICKED will continue to play at the Marcus Center through August 8. Ticket and performance information can be foundhere.
*If you can’t get enough of WICKED make plans for August 2 to attend Witches’ Night Off. An evening of adult cabaret performances featuring the cast and crew of the national touring company will be held at the Nancy Kendall Theater at Cardinal Stritch University. Net proceeds from the performance will be donated to the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin.
In addition to the performances, there will be a live and silent auction where guests can bid on autographed WICKED memorabilia and opportunities to watch the company make-up artists to Vicki Noon into the green Elphaba. Another item up for bid will be a change at a walk-on role in a performance during the company’s final week in Milwaukee.
Tickets to Witches’ Night Off are available online at arcw.org/witches. Standard tickets for the show are $25 and VIP Tickets, which will include a private reception with the cast following the show, are being sold for $50