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Get Wicked

September 24, 2010

“So much happened before Dorothy dropped in.”

That’s the advertising tagline for Wicked, the latest Broadway phenom to make a stop at Overture Hall in Madison. After seeing last night’s bravura performance, the Tony Award-winning show’s marketers couldn’t be more correct.

For those who don’t know, Wicked is the backstory of the witches in The Wizard of Oz. Drawn from Gregory Maguire’s novel of the same name, the narrative is remarkable for its depth, empathy and the way it ties to the familiar characters and imagery from the Academy Award-winning 1939 family classic. Those fearing the usual Broadway pablum from Winnie Holzman’s adaptation will be more than pleasantly be surprised. Those expecting fantastic costumes and powerful vocals will not be disappointed.

Central to the story is the relationship between Glinda (understudy Lesley McKinnell) and Elphaba (Vicki Noon), better known as the Wicked Witch of the West. Elphaba’s green skin sets her apart from her contemporaries in the classic Ugly Duckling fashion, but she eventually grows to embody an inner beauty of integrity and strength. Glinda overcomes her initial revulsion to become a close personal friend to Elphaba (whose name is a contraction of the elements in Oz author L. Frank Baum’s name.) Their fate’s each intertwine along with that of the Wizard of Oz (Don Amendolia) himself in what turns out to be a very nice piece of storytelling.

Like all good storytelling, Wicked has ample doses of humor, pathos and, of course, music, the later by Stephen Schwartz, best known for Godspell, Pippin and a host of Disney/Dreamworks films. The show’s signature tune, “Defying Gravity,” is the standout number and elevates the character of Elphaba emotionally as well as physically to close Act 1 of the 2:45 show.

McKinnell and Noon perform some lovely duets, and Glinda’s understudy deftly handles much of the show’s humor. Both performers sing with remarkable strength and style and the audience comes to care about the fate of the characters, something that hasn’t happened for some of us since West Side Story. Eugene Lee’s impressive sets and, especially, Susan Hilferty’s fantastical costumes bring a very entertaining dimension to round out the show.

As contemporary theater-goers know, today’s blockbuster musicals generally have some major device by which they become known. Phantom of the Opera is known as “the chandelier show” and Miss Saigon as “the helicopter show” for obvious reasons. Wicked will probably become known as “the dragon show” for no apparent reason. I am not sure what the giant proscenium prop was meant to convey, but perhaps it had more to do during its original run on Broadway.

Overture Center would like you to know, too, that tickets are still available for many performance. Call 608-258-4141 for more information.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Judy Adrianson permalink
    September 27, 2010 5:34 pm

    Hi Mike and Jean,

    We met over dinner in the tent last night. I think I’m STILL full. What a great night and how special it was to share it in such pleasant company. I subscribed to your blog so I can keep up with your critiques. I liked your comments on “Wicked”. We, too, wondered about the dragon in the context of the show. But it was part of the book in that it was actually part of this weird time machine they explained as part dragon, part clock and part carriage. Well, at least it didn’t get in the way. Hope to talk to you soon.

    JUDY

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