Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Chicago

Cadillac Palace Theatre

Also see Richard's review of Pancake Breakfast and John's review of Lobby Hero

Chandra Lee Schwartz and
Jackie Burns

If there's anyone within a few hundred miles of Chicago who missed Wicked during its record-setting three-and-a-half year run that closed in January 2009 and who still wants to see it, they needn't feel shortchanged about this second chance to catch the show. Those wanting to make a repeat visit shouldn't be disappointed, either. The "first" national tour company that's now back in town for an eight-week run has a top-shelf cast and if there's been any scaling back of the show's monumental production values, I couldn't detect it, though it seems the orchestra and ensemble have been reduced slightly.

The leads include some Broadway up and comers, starting with Chandra Lee Schwartz, who was one of Bernadette Peters' "Hollywood Blondes" in Gypsy, Sharpay in the national tour of High School Musical and is again a blonde here. She plays Glinda quite broadly—pushing the good witch's dumbness and petulance as far as she can. She gets a lot of laughs from her efforts, and though she overshadows her co-star in the earlier scenes, there's great chemistry between her and Jackie Burns as Elphaba. Burns (who understudied Sheila and Jeannie in the recent Hair revival) can do the power ballads with nearly as much force as Idina Menzel, but has a sweeter, softer way with the role's quieter vocals. She brings out Elphaba's vulnerability and sensitivity, even as the green witch becomes more empowered. She's a performer we'll want to keep an eye on.

Richard H. Blake, who has originated key supporting roles on Broadway in Legally Blonde (Warner) and The Wedding Singer (Glen), is a brash and confident Fiyero and handles the dance and vocal requirements of the role with athleticism and charm. Justin Brill, of High Fidelity and All Shook Up, makes a truly comic munchkin of Boq. The cast also boasts a lovely and sweet-voiced Nessarose in Stefanie Brown. Two Chicago favorites, Barbara Robertson and Gene Weygandt, are comfortably back in the roles they played for a time during the Chicago sit-down production. Robertson's Madame Morrible is cunning and duplicitous, and Weygandt's Wizard is the desperate loser struggling to keep his control over the citizens of Oz. When he explains to Elphaba his tactics for maintaining power—uniting the citizens behind a common enemy and creating truth out of lies simply by repeating them often enough—it is sadly more resonant today. As Doctor Dillamond (Paul Slade Smith) tells Elphaba, in times of scarcity, someone will be blamed—a scapegoat will be found.

If the political satire underlying Wicked is lost amidst all the stuff going on on stage, it's not surprising as there is so much packed into this show. It all keeps coming so quickly—the energetic dances by Wayne Cilento, the quirky visualization of Oz by designers Eugene Lee, Susan Hilferty and Kenneth Posner and Stephen Schwartz's nearly nonstop score—that only a few individual moments make a lasting impression. Schwartz and bookwriter Winnie Holtzman had a herculean task in condensing Gregory Maguire's long novel into a two-hour and forty-five minute musical. In the second act the story jumps to quickly to resolve its threads and tie the action back to The Wizard of Oz, but at that point the audience may simply be too dazzled by the visuals and the performances to notice. There's no question audiences have connected with the story of friendship between the two young witches. That, together with the "spare no expense" philosophy of the producers and director Joe Mantello's ability to pull all this together into a unified if overstuffed show, are reasons for coming back to Wicked. There's just so much in it that it remains new and continues to amaze on each viewing.

Wicked will play the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago, through January 23, 2011. For ticket information, visit, any of the Broadway in Chicago box offices, call 800-775-2000 or contact any Ticketmaster outlet.

Photo: Joan Marcus

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-- John Olson

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