A Wicked good time at the Paramount
Also see David's review of The Year of Magical Thinking
Whether you've seen the show before or not, the plot particulars of the stage version of Wicked (which differs a great deal from the Gregory Maguire novel on which it is based) will not be belabored in this review. Winnie Holzman's wonderful, witty and wise book melds beautifully to tell us the "true" story of the two best known witches in the not so merry old land of Oz. Mainly told in flashback, after Elphaba's dousing death by water (performed by the sketchily seen and barely heard from Dorothy Gale), we find out about why Elphaba was born green (the result of a tryst between her mother and a traveling salesman); her complex relationship with sister Nessarose (later known as the Wicked West of the East; the genesis of the rivalry between Elphaba and Glinda as mismatched college roomies (one plot point is that Glinda is originally known as Galinda); 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, though underrated at the show's Broadway opening, is a cunning meld of revisionist Oz with winks at the M-G-M version scattered throughout, and skillfully waves its way through many characters and plot tangents. Schwartz's score, which grows more delightful through repeated listenings, contains more musical gems than any musical that has appeared on Broadway since.
Under the insightful direction of Joe Mantello, a strong cast weaves its own spell of enchantment. As Elphaba, Donna Vivino brings honesty, earnest intensity and a strong but not overpowering voice to the several solid Schwartz tunes she is called upon to deliver, from her optimistic "The Wizard & I" to the plaintive "I'm Not that Girl," and pulls out the stops with the first act closing rouser "Defying Gravity." Vivino masterfully builds Elphaba from shy and defensive outcast to a woman who, in learning that no good deed goes unpunished, takes on some really evil traits (rousing the audience to cheers when she lets loose with some Margaret Hamilton-inspired cackles). Chandra Lee Schwartz's Glinda begins as a humorous amalgam of Dainty June from Gypsy crossed with a Valley girl before growing her character into a woman who values friendship and wants true good to come for all citizens of Oz. Ms. Schwartz is as at home with a comic crowd pleaser like "Popular" as she is with the minor-key melancholy of "No One Mourns the Wicked," and when she and Vivino team up for a hilarious war of words in "What Is This Feeling?" or expressing what they've learned from each other in the "For Good" duet, the show flies at its highest.
Broadway veteran Lenny Wolpe is by far the most successful interpreter of the Wizard's role that I have yet seen, combining the seemingly fatherly benevolence (appropriate given one twist in the tale told here) with an underlying duplicity. Richard H. Blake is solid in growing his Fiyero from sassy campus slacker to heroic love interest, and he shows his vocal chops to good effect in the exuberant "Dancing Through Life" and in a romantic mood on the love duet "As Long as You're Mine" with Vivino. Myra Lucretia Taylor's Madame Morrible falters when playing the seemingly earnest academic mentor, but shines when she embraces the character's own true wickedness. Amanda Rose gives a fine account of herself as the crippled Nessarose, Ben Liebert seems a natural fit for her erstwhile beau Boq who pines for Glinda, and Paul Slade Smith makes his moments count as the doomed goat/academic Dr. Dillamond. The ensemble soars on its vocals, though a wee bit sloppy going through the paces of Wayne Cilento's most demandingly quirky choreography in "Dancing Through Life." And a shout out to the exuberant actors cast as the high-flying winged monkeys.
Eugene Lee's sets, though of necessity modified for touring, are still grandly eye-popping and set-off by the expert lighting design of Kenneth Posner. Susan Hilferty's costumes remain enchantingly apt. William David Brohn's orchestrations sound grand as ever as played by a fine mix of touring and local musicians, and the sound design by Tony Meola satisfyingly fills the large house at the Paramount.
Though Wicked may ultimately follow Judy Garland and company into big-screen glory, the stage musical is unquestionably one of the best family-friendly Broadway musicals available, whatever side of the rainbow you're on.
Wicked runs through October 4, 2009 at Seattle's Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St, downtown Seattle. For information and tickets go to www.ticketmaster.com/wicked, www.stgpresents.org , www.BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com , calling 206-292-ARTS, or at any Ticketmaster outlet.
See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.