Generally, one goes to the theatre to dive into a world of make believe. To be immersed in a story different from his own—to sit behind that imaginary “fourth wall.”
Doing so is quite difficult when, at curtain time, two members of the tech crew walk onstage, climb to the top of the set, and take their perch at their spotlights---in plain view of the audience. Would it really have been so difficult for them to assume their posts before the house opened?
From the beginning, Wicked seems like just another stereotypical modern musical—think Legally Blonde meets Grease. The plain girl (or in this case, green girl Elphaba) is mocked while the pretty and popular girl (Glinda) lives the easy life. Pretty girl gets a conscience, transforms plain girl and they become life-long friends.
But then comes the ingenuity that has made Wicked into a national sensation.
In one imaginative twist after another, novelist Gregory Maguire, who wrote the book on which the musical is based, and playwright Winnie Holzman weave a backstory to the Wizard of Oz so complete it’s hard to believe L. Frank Baum didn’t write it himself.
While the show would most likely be entertaining to any musical theatre fan, it will be most enjoyed by those who know the story of the Wizard of Oz. And, since the latter group is comprised of nearly every living being, Wicked plays to houses packed with satisfied audience members who, for possibly the first time in their lives, “get” all the inside jokes.
It makes for a lively atmosphere.
But the story itself isn’t the only thing that energizes Wicked.
In most productions, audience members can “see” the tricks; the wires, the trap doors, the rigging.
Not here. Wicked lives up to the hype by ending act one with one of the most magical effects in theatre today, leaving the audience electrified.
With another notable exception to the formulaic musical, that electricity continues into act two, never once slowing down apart from a ballad between Elphaba and Fiyero that drags just a bit too much.
In a welcome departure from the norm, Elphaba, aka the Wicked Witch, (the powerful Christine Dwyer) defies the characteristic lead soprano voice of most musicals, and instead delivers perfect clarity and thunderous power in strong mezzo notes. Her chemistry with Jeanna de Waal (Glinda) and Billy Harrigan Tighe (Fiyero) is palpable and spot on.
To be sure, Wicked makes audiences giggle at its corny jokes, gawk at its stunning costumes and massive set, and perhaps even get choked up a moment or two.
But the real magic to Wicked is the underlying message it brings. The show is positively phosphorescent, but there is a whole lot more to Wicked than what meets the eye.
Wicked is part of the PNC Broadway in Louisville series and continues at the Kentucky Center through September 30th. Tickets start at $32.75 and may be purchased online or by calling the Kentucky Center box office at 800-775-7777.
Photo: Jeanna de Waal by Joan Marcus