Regional Reviews: Chicago
Also see Christine's recent review of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Of course, the whole thing is a retelling of L. Frank Baum's Oz stories from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West, here named Elphaba and played this time around by a truly dynamic Lissa deGuzman, who captures the audience from her first appearance and then just gets better. This version of the story centers on her unlikely friendship with Glinda the Good Witch of the North (here just Glinda the Good), played by a very winning Jennafer Newberry. Bitter rivals at the start, they find in each other a true friend they both desperately need, and their secret BFF status propels most of the action.
My memory may be faulty, and I have not seen Wicked since the early days of its first Chicago run with Ana Gasteyer as Elphaba, but it seems that this production has lost none of what makes the show so special: the wonderful clockwork sets by Eugene Lee, enhanced by Elaine J. McCarthy's projections that never detract from the three-dimensional set, only give it more depth; the creative costuming by Susan Hilferty; the powerful music; the enticing dance scenes (Jordan Litz's "Dancing Through Life" really comes alive here) with Wayne Cilento's choreography; the flying (oh, goodness, the monkeys and of course "Defying Gravity") by ZFX, Inc., with Chic Silber special effects designer; and that central relationship.
Both deGuzman and Newberry make their characters thoroughly believable: the former as the green witch who starts out shy and idealistic but ends up embracing her "wickedness" when she learns the truth about the government of Oz; and the latter as the spoiled, entitled princess who learns that the world is not black and white–or green and blonde. In different ways, they both catch the attention of Litz's Fiyero, who starts out lazy and overly full of himself but discovers his own true character along the way. Also notable are Natalie Venetia Belcon's manipulative weather witch Madame Morrible, whose comically mangled verbiage is echoed by Glinda and other Ozians, and John Bolton as the "Wonderful Wizard of Oz," that fraud from Kansas who somehow rose to power in a land where real magic exists. But it is the relationship between the leads that people come for, as they start off by declaring their "loathing" for each other and end up with each acknowledging that knowing the other has changed her "For Good." Not even a fleeting bout of jealousy from Glinda when Fiyero chooses her green friend can really break their bond (though it can and does certainly create complications).
For a large percentage of the audience (at least those over, say, six), this was not their first visit to Oz. Many people wore large green buttons (handed out at the entrance) that proudly declared that this was their 3rd, 4th, or even 5th time seeing the show. Other buttons proclaimed that the wearer had "finally" come to see it, but it was hard to differentiate, just from their reactions, which ones were in awe of the spectacle and music for the first time and which were joyfully indulging in a nostalgic experience. Didn't matter: I'm pretty sure everyone ended up pleased and thoroughly entertained. This is a wonderful play and an excellent production.
Wicked runs through December 4, 2022, at Nederlander Theatre, 24 Randolph Street, Chicago IL. For tickets and information, please visit BroadwayinChicago.com or call 312-977-1710. For more information on the tour, visit wickedthemusical.com.