Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Review: WICKED

By Toby Zinman

Review: WICKED


 By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer 

Welcome back Wicked, a gorgeous musical last in Philadelphia three years ago. The current production, part of the Broadway series at the Academy of Music, is full of great songs by Stephen Schwartz sung with full-throated passion by a uniformly fine cast. Excellent understudy Laurel Harris stepped into the central role of Elphaba without missing a note or a beat on opening night.

The book by Winnie Holzman is based on Gregory Maguire’s best-selling novel of the same title, and imagines the plot of Wizard of Oz from another perspective; Dorothy is just an unseen farm girl who stole a pair of shoes off a dead body, while the main characters are the Wicked Witch of the West (Harris, in the role usually played by Allison Luff) and Glinda (Jenn Gambatese), the good witch who travels in a bubble. The basic issue is not the easy opposition between good and evil, but the troubling realm of moral ambiguity we all inhabit, in Oz or not. 

The plot, which follows the relationship between Elphaba and Glinda, provides lots of issues without preaching about them: how power leads to tyranny, how racism creates rage, how cruelty to animals diminishes our humanity, how love can triumph over jealousy but only at high cost. It’s a smart show—probably even smarter if you could actually understand all the cleverly rhymed lyrics often lost in the miked singing over the big orchestra.

The Wizard (John Davidson), Nessarose, Elphaba’s sister (Jaime Rosenstein), the romantic lead Fiyero (Curt Hansen) and Madame Morrible (Kim Zimmer) are the major figures in a huge ensemble of flying monkeys and munchkins.  

By Act Two, the story has caught up to the plot of The Wizard of Oz, and there are nifty references to the original; the audience actually applauded with delight when Elphaba appears to her sister in a mirror: “What are you doing here?” asks Nessarose, and Elphaba replies, “Well, there’s no place like home.”

There is super spectacle (a dragon with red eyes oversees the stage—if you go, don’t forget to look up!) and the lighting (designed by Kenneth Posner) and interesting costumes (designed Susan Hilferty) contribute to the overall pleasure of the show.


At the Academy of Music, Broad & Locust Sts. Through August 4. Tickets $40-175. Information: 215-731-3333, or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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