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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

As Wicked as Ever, the National Tour
Returns to the Paramount

Also see David's reviews of Pullman Porter Blues and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Wicked
Kim Zimmer and Tom McGowan
The third time seems to still be the charm, as witness the enchanted crowd at the third visit by a national tour of the Stephen Schwartz Broadway musical phenomenon Wicked to Seattle's Paramount theater. Having also seen the original Broadway company, and though the surprise factor has long passed for me, I can honestly say my enjoyment of the show has hardly flagged. This revisionist look at L. Frank Baum's timeless tale and the unceasingly popular 1939 MGM classic film The Wizard of Oz depends a lot, but not exclusively, on the talents of the lead actresses playing the pivotal characters of Elphaba, who becomes the Wicked Witch of the West, and Galinda (later known as Glinda) the Good Witch of the North. The current tour leads and some fierce co-stars see to it that the show tickles and touches an audience as satisfyingly as ever.

Told in flashback from the apocryphal moment of the Wicked Witch's demise, Winnie Holzman's funny and fanciful book, adapted from Gregory Maguire's far darker novel, introduces the pair of witches during their days as college roommates, where popular coed Galinda slowly warms to the green-skinned dark horse Elphaba. The pair compete romantically for the initially brainless campus hero Fiyero, while magical school mistress Madame Morrible takes advantage of Elphaba's obvious talent for the dark arts, setting in motion her meeting with the Wizard and all that comes after. The showmanly, humbug Wizard proves to be up to no good, and brands Elphaba as the "wicked witch" when she discovers his nefarious plots. Little is as it seems right up to the end, and though a scarecrow, Tin Woodsman and Cowardly lion, as well as Dorothy do figure into the plotting, those new to Wicked should expect the unexpected. Stephen Schwartz's musical score, arguably the most popular Broadway score of the first decade of this century, is the musically infectious and lyrically intricate soul of the production.

The cast, in a production modeled on director Joe Mantello's Broadway original, includes Dee Roscioli as Elphaba and Patti Murin as Galinda. Roscioli really underplays the young, brooding Elphaba initially, carefully building to the moments when the familiar cackling crone elements of the Wicked Witch display themselves. She revels in the unabashedly showstopping "Defying Gravity", and her rendition of "No Good Deed" is perhaps the finest I have been witness to. Murin's Galinda is at first a bit "Elle Woodsy", so Legally Blonde-ish is her take on the character's youthful vapidity. But she makes it work and her "Popular" is a giddy delight. Gradually, her Galinda matures, and when Murin and Roscioli team for the show's power anthem "For Good" late in act two, it is likely there will be no dry eyes in the house.

Good villains are important to all fairytales, and the roles of the Wizard and Madame Morrible have been entrusted to a pair of showbiz veterans who play them to the hilt, yet never stray into overplaying their hands. Tom McGowan is all grandfatherly warmth covering an icy, cold-hearted character as the Wizard, and he twinkles with old-timey showmanship in his big "Wonderful" turn. Daytime diva and multiple Emmy Award winning actress Kim Zimmer is a madly entertaining slice of Disneyesque villainess grandeur as Madame Morrible, whose spell to bring a cyclone over the rainbow to Oz is a crucial twist to the tale. Clifton Hall brings an "American Idol"-ish voice and pop-star swagger to the role of the ultimately heroic Fiyero, handsomely leading the ensemble in Wayne Cilento's charmingly quirky "Dancing Through Life" choreography. Well-loved Broadway and TV leading man Clifton Davis is heartfelt and unrecognizable as the goat/man college professor Doctor Dillamond, while Justin Brill and Demaree Hill contribute strongly in their respective roles as Galinda's rejected swain Boq and Elphaba's doomed sister Nessarose.

Eugene Lee's Ozian settings, Kenneth Posner's lighting, and Susan Hilferty's eye-poppingly fantastic costumes remain in superb shape, despite the rigors of the road, and as much can be said over all for this tour of Wicked as it makes itself at home in our Emerald City.

Wicked runs through November 17, 2012, at the Paramount, 9th and Pine, downtown Seattle. For tickets or information contact the Seattle Theatre Group box office at 877-784-4849 or visit them online at www.stgpresents.org. For more on the Wicked tour, visit www.wickedthemusical.com.


Photo: Joan Marcus



- David Edward Hughes



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