Ever get the feeling that the Wicked Witch of the West got a bum rap in The Wizard of Oz?
I mean, does she really deserve her rep as the cause of all evil and strife in Oz?
A touring production of the Broadway mega-hit that broke box-office records when it premiered in 2003, Wicked is a genuinely thrilling theater experience, a fantastic fantasia of delicious song, movement, and speech that features spectacular choreography and a generous helping of turbo-charged special effects.
This is the fifth time the national tour has touched down in Philly.
Created by composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz and writer Winnie Holzman from source materials ranging from L. Frank Baum’s novel, MGM’s classic 1939 film, and the 1995 Gregory Maguire novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Wicked is a ferociously intelligent and imaginative retelling of the Oz narrative from the point of view of the story’s three witches, whose intertwined life stories unfold over the course of the 2½-hour show.
Glinda (Ginna Claire Mason, Newsies and Flashdance national tours) is a blond, bubble-gum-brained popular girl who grows up to become the Good Witch of the South. Nessarose (Jenny Florkowski, reprising her Broadway role) is a clever, embittered outsider who has been disabled since birth. She’ll come to be known as the Wicked Witch of the East. And Nessarose’s older sister and caretaker Elphaba (Jessica Vosk, Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway) was conceived in an adulterous liaison and is born homely and with green skin.
The show pretty much relegates Nessarose to the background, the better to develop the remarkably complex and textured relationship between Elphaba and Glinda. They meet as college roommates while studying under the hawkish gaze of venerated witch Madame Morrible (the incomparable Isabel Keating, a Tony nominee for The Boy from Oz), who promises that her best student will win a chance to work side by side with the Wizard of Oz himself (Fred Applegate, reprising his Broadway role).
Mason is a superb Glinda, her hypermanic physical presence beautifully buoyed by her ditzy persona, while Vosk is mesmerizing as her one-time rival, sometime bosom buddy, and eventual enemy. Jeremy Woodward (School of Rock and The Last Ship on Broadway) is dashing as Fiyero, the athletic hunk the two frenemies try to claim as a trophy husband.
Wicked rocks out all right, but all the while, it asks some profound questions about the changeable nature of our values, of how today’s reviled terrorist could someday be remembered as a saintly freedom fighter, of how brazen lies can become gospel truth if repeated often enough. It tells of a well-meaning, fierce friend of animals and of downtrodden people who tries to become a liberator, but ends up branded a demon and subjected to an ignoble death.
Or does she die, after all? Delightful surprises are in store for fans.
Wicked. Through Aug. 27 at the Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St. Tickets: $29-$189. Information: 215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org.