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Theatre Review: Wicked

May 9, 2012

WickedLike so many people around the world, I count Wicked as one of my all-time favorite musicals. Its success on Broadway and around the world is a testament to its universal appeal. I have seen it four times, and when people ask me for recommendations for what to see on Broadway or on tour, I ask them first if they have seen Wicked yet. It's a crowd pleaser and often opens people up to the world of musical theatre (including my own previously skeptical father, who is now in the process of wearing out my old copy of the original Broadway cast recording).

At its heart, Wicked is a story with universal themes that most people can relate to: the ways friendship can change your life, the subjectivity of "good" and "evil," the ambiguity of history, and finding the courage to do what's right despite impossible odds. It moves deftly from the comedy of mismatched roommates Elphaba and Galinda, exemplified in the numbers "What is This Feeling?" and "Popular," to moments of endearing bravery like the show-stopping Act I finale, "Defying Gravity," to thought-provoking questions like those posed in Glinda's "Thank Goodness" and the Wizard's song, "Wonderful," to a heartbreaking and touching reconciliation between friends who have changed each other's lives in "For Good." And, of course, it has a love story, achieving fruition in the hummable duet "As Long As You're Mine." The score (by Stephen Schwartz) is balanced, offering poignant, quiet moments like Elphaba's lament, "I'm Not That Girl," to powerhouse ballads like Act II's "No Good Deed."

Another reason for Wicked's popularity is its visual qualities. It takes the mythical land of Oz, a place that millions of people have come to know and love, and presents its own twist on it. The spectacle includes the impressive and menacing Time Dragon at the top of the proscenium, a set that juxtaposes the gears of industrialization with the trees and vines of the wild, and impressive pieces like the brilliant Emerald City and the Wizard's imposing facade, a steaming, blinking, robotic head. As is fitting for an off-center land like Oz, the costumes are asymmetrical and eccentric in design. Lighting and fog effects complete a lush visual experience that represents the best of live theatre.

Probably my main attraction to musicals is enjoying the skill of the actors, and the admirable creative elements of Wicked are helmed by some of the most talented performers in the business. The ensemble never disappoints in the dramatic opening number, "No One Mourns the Wicked," the whimsical party scene, "Dancing Through Life," and the dazzling Emerald City exploration number "One Short Day," in which the unique spirit of Oz is exemplified. I have never been disappointed with an Elphaba, and my most recent one, Dee Roscioli (who has played the role more times than any other actress) knocked it out of the park. Her experience showed as she effortlessly belted and riffed through Elphaba's many musical moments. She hooked the audience with her artful interpretation of the early song "The Wizard and I" and never lost us. At my most recent performance, I also had the unexpected pleasure of seeing a Glinda understudy, Megan Campanile, who handled the role's combination of soprano trills and character-driven belting with grace and precision. This great musical attracts great talent, so every cast is a treat to watch.

When Wicked burst onto the scene in 2003, it not only launched a Broadway smash and the careers of stars Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, but it added to a shared mythology and created a treasure that people of all ages all over the globe can enjoy (try YouTubing videos of "Defying Gravity" from the German or Japanese productions-it's a real trip!). I always say that when someone thinks they don't like musicals, take them to see Wicked. I have yet to meet someone who could resist it. It's pretty perfect. You have to see it. You just have to.

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