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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Wicked Returns to San Francisco

Also see Richard's reviews of Oh My Godmother! and Drunk with Love

Wicked
Kendra Kassebaum
and Eden Espinoza

A smoother and better Wicked has returned to the Orpheum Theatre after playing two years ago at the Curran Theatre in its pre-Broadway run. The music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz now seem more coherent and the book by Winnie Holzman is less cumbersome. The storyline goes faster than the pre-Broadway production and the gaudy dance number about the new student coming to the University of Oz has been dropped.

Wicked is more of an event than a musical, even with such popular songs as "Popular" and "Defying Gravity," the latter sounding like a song a contestant would sing on TV's "American Idol." There is still an old-fashioned Broadway style song, "Wonderful," sung by the Wizard in the second act that should appeal to all of the elderly theatre patrons. It's rinky-dink but a fun melody that sounds like it came out of Damn Yankees.

Stephen Schwartz's musical is beautifully and artfully crafted and it's awe-inspiring, technically speaking. There are the flying monkeys and the gaudy green city of Oz, with enough green to fill a St. Patrick's Day parade. The staging is superb, to the point where you don't really care about the characters, after being blitzed by all of the bells and whistles. However, this is an audience friendly show that is great for parents and their kids. It's a clever piece of work offering a different look at the witches of Oz. The Wicked Witch of the West got a bad rap in the MGM musical, if we are to believe this story of how the green witch became so wicked. We get to see how the Scarecrow became a scarecrow, how the Tin Man lost his original heart and why the Cowardly Lion became so cowardly. We even get to see the "shadow" of Dorothy but not the dog Dodo (that's what Carol Kane as Madame Morrible mistakenly calls the dog).

Stephen Schwartz' pop score is full of powerful songs of phrase, and many of the songs sound the same with the exception of those listed above. Choreography by Wayne Cilento is more athletics than actual dance. He uses the small chorus in a steady motion, doing every conceivable type of dance, from modern and jazz to old-fashioned ballroom waltz.

Eden Espinosa as Elphaba is amazing, with wonderful vocal chops on "Defying Gravity." Her voice soars, almost blowing the top off the Orpheum Theatre. The song is a great ending for the first act. Kendra Kassebaum is cute and perky as Glinda with a lovely, pleasant voice, especially in the song "Popular." She is more comical than Kristin Chenoweth was in the role. However, Kendra is very touching when singing "Couldn't Be Happier."

David Garrison as the Wizard does a great vaudeville turn in "Wonderful," with a little soft shoe thrown in for good measure. He plays the role very sympathetic and maybe a little too na´ve. However, he is very good in the part. Logan Lipton, who is just starting out in show biz, has a great velvet toned voice as Boq, reminiscent of Joey Grey in voice and manner. Derrick Williams as Fiyero is charismatic and dashing and has a splendid voice in "Dancing Through Life." Peter John Chursin, who was raised in nearby Pacifica, has incredible agility as Chistery, the chief flying monkey. Carole Kane plays the opportunistic Madame Morrible looking like she should be in a Renaissance comedy. In white makeup with a Clara Bow mouth she looks very strange wandering about the stage saying her lines like a seasoned veteran of stage and screen.

Eugene Lee's opulent sets are framed by the enormous clock face window and gigantic moving gears. The set changes are made very smoothly with fantastic lighting by Kenneth Posner running from the gaudy green of Oz to the dark nightscape of the dungeon. The flaming red background with the flying monkeys is incredible Costumes by Susan Hilferty are wonderful, with bright, Irish green cutaway jackets, pantaloons and a heck of a lot of ruffles. These are bright storybook costumes with vibrant colors. Director Joe Mantello keeps the action moving at a frantic pace. Wicked is a first rate and polished production.

Wicked runs through September 11 at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market at 8th, San Francisco. Tickets are available online at www bestofbroadway-sf.com and www.ticketmaster.com. You can go to the box office at Orpheum Theatre also or at all Ticketmaster Ticket Centers or call Ticketmaster at 415-512-7770.


Photo: Joan Marcus


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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