'Wicked' is wicked good [Theater]

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By Josh Cook

There are two sides to every story. And in the case of Wicked those two sides are good, and wicked good.

I knew little about the hit Broadway musical before the wife and I attended Thursday's matinee at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, other than the fact that it was a different perspective of The Wizard of Oz story. But I must admit I was blown away by what I saw in Whitney Hall.

While the costumes weren't as incredible as those of The Lion King, and the musical numbers weren't as catchy as the tunes in Chicago - a pair of productions I've seen at the Center in the last few years - I would rank Wicked as the best of the three.

What put it over the top for me was its blend of humor (including several inside-joke type references to The Wizard of Oz as well as the origins of the ruby slippers, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion), songs and the incredible performances of Chandra Lee Schwartz and Donna Vivino.

Schwartz plays Glinda (or Galinda, as she's known early in the production) the Good Witch in the role made famous by my secret celebrity cougar crush - Kristin Chenowth.

Meanwhile Vivino plays Elphaba, the green-skinned future Wicked Witch of the West.

Those two absolutely steal the show, but they are ably backed by Brynn O'Malley as Nessarose, the beautiful but wheelchair-bound sister of Elphaba; Randy Danson as Madame Morrible, the sinister headmistress of Shiz University; Richard H. Blake as Fiyero, the handsome prince and the play's heartthrob who had the teen girls in front of us cheering like he was a Jonas brother during the curtain call; and Richard Kline (aka Larry from 'Three's Company') as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The show begins with the number "No One Mourns the Wicked," by Glinda and the citizens of Oz. It was a little too high-pitched for me, but the musical begins to hit its stride with the next song, "Dear Old Shiz," by the students. The performance really takes off with the fourth song - "What Is This Feeling?" by Galinda, Elphaba and the students.

The first act, which is set before Dorothy's arrival from Kansas, was light and humorous while telling the story of how Glinda and Elphaba, adversaries at first, become best friends despite the fact that they are both crushing on Fiyero.

The act ends with Glinda and Elphaba journeying to Emerald City, where they meet the Wizard, who at first appears as a giant robot-like head with a booming voice (which could be slightly scary to younger children). True colors emerge when the Wizard tricks Elphaba into casting a spell to help his fight against the talking animals. It proves that the Wizard is powerless and causes Elphaba and Glinda to flee. It's then that Madame Morrible declares to Oz that Elphaba is a "wicked witch" who shouldn't be trusted.

As the Oz guards close in on the pair Elphaba enchants a broomstick and asks Glinda to go with her. However the "Good Witch" declines and the act ends with the number "Defying Gravity" in which the newly-named "Wicked Witch" rises on the broomstick and escapes the guards.

The second act is darker as the plot of the love triangle between Glinda, Elphaba and Fiyero thickens and a key character is killed when Dorothy arrives, but is no less entertaining. After some drama and some more songs Glinda and Elphaba meet up again as the citizens of Oz hunt for the "Wicked Witch."

I won't give away the ending, but I will say it surprised the girls in front of us so much that they were squealing with delight as if they'd just won tickets to a Justin Bieber concert.

The enthusiasm of the young crowd, which included raucous applause and a standing ovation as the show ended, brought a fun energy to the performance and made it that much more enjoyable for me.

Wicked runs through May 23 at The Kentucky Center. Click here for ticket information.

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