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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Wicked casts its spell on Emerald City Audiences

The two-and-a-half years it has taken the smash hit musical Wicked to ride the twister of its acclaim to the Emerald City of Seattle was well worth the wait. The national touring company version of the Stephen Schwartz musical based on Gregory Maguire's revisionist Oz saga was basically a hot-ticket sell out before it ever landed at the Paramount, and after witnessing the huge audience response to the show here, one can all ready predict a return engagement won't take two years to occur.

But what it might well not have in another local stand is the palpable chemistry between its two lead witches of Oz, the soulful Shoshana Bean as Elphaba, who becomes the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, and the enchanting and riotously funny Megan Hilty as Galinda, later shortened to the better known Glinda, the Good. These two NW natives are the heart and soul of the excellent production, and both have played the roles on Broadway. Anyone doubting they would be as good as the roles' originators, Tony winning Idina Menzel as Elphaba and Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda, can banish those fears. They are not only as talented, but their chemistry in the love/hate relationship at the core of the story is actually more balanced and touching.

Wicked
Megan Hilty, Shoshana Bean and Cast

Since a great many folks still don't know the plot particulars of Wicked (and the musical diverges a great deal from Maguire's book), there will be know huge plot spoilers here. But Winnie Holzman's wonderful, witty and wise book melds beautifully to tell us the "true" story of the two best known Oz witches. Mainly told in flashback, after Elphaba's dousing death by water (performed by the never seen and barely heard from Dorothy), we find out how Elphaba was born green, her complex relationship with sister Nessarose, the genesis of the rivalry between Elphaba and Glinda as mismatched college roomies, the dark side of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the romantic triangle that develops between the two witches and their shared swain Fiyero, and a great deal more. Holzman's book is one of the richest and most carefully woven in recent Broadway musical history, and Schwartz's score is perhaps his finest and most emotionally mature.

Vibrantly directed by Joe Mantello, this tour does not feel stripped down in any significant way, and all the pieces were in place at the press opening. The strong ensemble opening of "No One Mourns the Wicked" sent the requisite chills up our spines, and assured us of a satisfying ride. Beyond the matchless leading ladies there is a wonderfully grand and eccentric turn by Alma Cuervo as Madame Morrible, one of the professors at Shiz University who is a specialist in weather spells; Sebastian Arcelus, who subtly takes his Fiyero on a journey of emotional journey from empty-headed pretty boy heartthrob to hero; Jennifer Waldman's multi-layered Nessarose; and Josh Lamon's fine work as Boq, an amiable munchkin who craves Glinda, but settles for Nessa, and pays a huge price for it. K. Todd Freeman conveys the soul and heartbreak under his goat make-up as Dr. Dillamond, and understudy Christopher Russo was creditable stepping in for P.J. Benjamin as the Wizard.

Musically, both leading ladies share the top honors, and the best of the Schwartz songs. Bean displays a just right openness and wonderment in her first solo, "The Wizard and I," a wistful yet not self pitying melancholy on "I'm Not That Girl," and she soars, taking the crowd with her, on "Defying Gravity." Hilty is howlingly hilarious on the standout comic number "Popular," and shows Glinda's ability to hide her heartbreak on "Thank Goodness." The extent of their teamwork's success is in Bean and Hilty's two exquisite duets: "What is the Feeling?," a comic bitch-fest where they register sheer loathing for each other early in act one, and the bracingly emotional and soaring Schwartz ballad "For Good" in the near closing moments of the show. Arcelus' Fiyero leads the light and bouncy "Dancing Through Life," and his voice blends well with Bean's on the Elphaba/Fiyero love duet "As Long As You're Mine", though the song, a rather generic stab at a top of the charts contemporary ballad, is the only true disappointment in Stephen Schwartz's otherwise excellent score.

The show's musical staging by Wayne Cilento may be a little too busy and disjointed at times, and is hardly groundbreaking, but for all that, I find it more than adequate, often rousing, and certainly not the let down that the New York critics painted it to be. William David Brohn's tantalizing orchestrations are delivered with full justice by the fine pit orchestra, and Tony Meola's sound renders the lion's share of the show perfectly audible (unlike many a past show at the Paramount), with additional kudos to the cast for crystal clear diction.

The visual look of the show, from Eugene Lee's well rendered and eye-popping scenic design, to Susan Hilferty's exquisitely rendered costumes and Kenneth Posner's splendid lighting design is a very close approximation of what you would see in the original New York production. The producers knew better than to skimp on any aspect of this much anticipated tour. What they couldn't really have known is how much Seattle wanted to see it. On the heels of this response, one would hope that an encore run of Wicked is announced post haste. It is a show for anyone who ever yearned to go over that rainbow and hear the tales of Oz related from the insider's view.

Wicked runs through October 1 at the Paramount Theatre, 9th & Pine Streets in downtown Seattle. For further information visit www.theparamount.com.


Photo: Joan Marcus



- David-Edward Hughes



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