The whole reason for my recent SoCal trip was to see Wicked.
I’m not going to try to write a real review of of it; I’m no expert on stage musicals, and can’t really accurately say how it compares to anything else in the genre. I also haven’t read the book, so rendering a judgement on how well they did with a largely-gutted plot isn’t possible for me.
What I’ll say though, is that I loved it.
Read the wiki page linked above for a detailed description; in short, it’s a re-imagined Wizard of Oz, from the point of view of a mis-understood Wicked Witch. The re-imagined fairy tale is a well-mined vein, but it’s rich in possibility; everything from fractured fairy tales to Into the Woods have used the device, and we’re far from done with it.
I don’t know how many people have attempted a re-imagined Wizard of Oz; my personal favorite was PJ Farmer’s A Barnstormer in Oz, which included a soft-core-porn, midget-sized version of Glinda, and all sorts of bizarre steam-punk-clockwork characters. More recently you may have seen Tin Man on the Sci Fi Channel, which managed to be both deeply tongue-in-cheek and deeply over-serious, but was most memorable (to me) for the fact that a large number of the cast were wearing Utilikilts.
But I have to say, Wicked did a fine job.
The staging is amazing; whomever did stage and set designs completely groks the steampunk aesthetic, including clockwork dragons, turning wheels and a steam-driven great-and-powerful-oz head. The costuming is a wonder, with all manner of quasi-victorian outfits in a rainbow of colors, no two outfits the same even when the characters are in uniforms. The shoes made me drool, all sorts of wonderful boots (which I found almost distracting due to the footwork-themed blog entry I’d written before seeing the show).
The music – well, I don’t know show tunes; but I liked it. There are a number of clever tunes, and my kids are completely enraptured with the sound track.
But it’s the cast that made this thing fly.
The supporting cast (led by people like John Rubenstein and Jo Anne Worley) are uniformly terrific, particularly the male lead Fiyero, played the night I saw it by a newcomer to the cast who was fantastic (I wish I could remember his name).
The two leads, though, are the actors who carry the thing; roles originated by Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenowith, these are large shoes to fill (metaphorically, anyway). The roles need both big voices and performers who can command a stage.
Eden Espinosa as the titular Wicked Witch (Elphaba) is a vocal powerhouse, and manages to sell both the green-skinned geek-girl of the first act and the gothy grown-up witch of the second perfectly (ok, I also admit a bit of a fetish for green-skinned characters; yes, I am a sci-fi fan boy). The show’s high point for me was Defying Gravity, which ends with Elphaba flying over the stage in a haze of smoke belting out No Wizard that there is or was, Is ever gonna bring me down. Chills, I admit it, actual chills. LIstening to Menzel’s version of the song on the soundtrack, I frankly thing Espinosa does a whole lot better in the roll, vocally at least.
Megan Hilty as Galinda/Glinda, though, is a comic scene stealer. She had me laughing so hard my eyes were watering during Popular. One has to see how she plays this airhead blond, bouncing with manic glee, voice dropping from schoolgirl shriek to blues-singer growl for emphasis. She’s incredibly funny, and has the vocal chops to keep up with Espinosa. I want video of this scene so I can watch it over a few times. Hilty’s singing can’t quite measure up to Chenowith’s, but in terms of comedy and style, I can’t imagine Chenowith doing any better, Hilty’s that good.
The friends we went with (a cousin-sin-law and her girlfriend) were on a second and third time seeing the show, and I see why; I’d have gone again the next night happily. It’s easily worth seeing again, even at full prices. And the LA cast is so damned strong, you’re in no way losing out not seeing the original.