Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Also see Arty's review of Sweat
The songs by Stephen Schwartz are tuneful, the anthemic "Defying Gravity" brings down the house, and the one serious romantic song, "As Long As Your Mine," packs real heat. Winnie Holzman's well-crafted book incorporates numerous laugh lines while delivering what is basically a serious tale. The elaborate steam-punkish sets by Eugene Lee, flamboyant costumes designed by Susan Hilferty, and integrated lighting by Kenneth Posner are works of tremendous imagination, all expertly executed. The elaborate physical production, large cast, and complex plotline are adeptly synched by director Joe Mantello's breathlessly paced staging, and Wayne Cilento's choreography adds verve to the production. Moreover, the theme of the show, examining how we discern between good and evil, feels more compelling than in my past viewing. Perhaps this is due to ways in which I have changed, or perhaps it reflects on a world in which the polarities of good and evil seem to play out in the news almost every day.
Wicked is both a prequel and epilogue to L. Frank Baum's children's classic of 1900, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." It opens with the denizens of Oz celebrating the demise of the Wicked Witch of the West, as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, glides from above on a magical bubble to preside over the celebration. When asked how it is that wickedness happens, Glinda tells them the story of Elphaba, who was her college roommate, and how she transitioned from a highly principled, compassionate girl into the Wicked Witch whose death they now cheer.
In contrast to Elphaba, Glinda arrives at Shiz University a spoiled, self-absorbed social climber whose spunky affect, chic wardrobe, blonde hair, lovely face, pert figure, sweet voice, and ability to manipulate those around her make her instantly popular. Elphaba, wearing drab clothes and a long matronly braid, and cursed with garishly green skin and a deep voice, is derided as a freak, yet she lives by a strong code of ethics, is devoted to the care of her disabled sister, and feels deeply for the suffering of animals who are losing their rights in Oz, including their ability to speak. She believes that if she gets the chance to work with the mighty Wizard of Oz, she will help him to right the wrongs of the world.
Elphaba and Glinda start off loathing one another, but in time become true friends. Their friendship is tested by their desire for the same boy, a handsome party dude named Fiyero who decides to give Shiz a try after being kicked out of several other schools. When Elphaba resolves to use her gifts of sorcery to fight against the source of foul deeds in Oz, she is branded as evil, while Glinda takes the "nice" route of going along with the way things are, and is lifted up as a model citizen and leader. With Glinda and Elphaba in opposing camps, the story takes us to the house from Kansas falling on Elphaba's sister, with Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tinman and the Lion all accounted for. We finally come to understand the significance of the sparkling ruby slippers which Elphaba pursues so desperately. Glinda remains, stepping up to her responsibility to discern between merely being the face of "goodness" and actually delivering goodness to those who look up to her.
To enjoy Wicked, the audience must fully buy the two central characters, and in this national tour Lisa deGuzman (Elphaba) and Jennafer Newberry (Glinda) totally sell the goods. Both inhabit their characters, vividly demonstrating their differences at the start, then gradually changing over the course of their adventure, blurring those distinctions to make each a more complex and more truthful person. These actors are adept at delivering their comedic lines, and both have marvelous voices. Newberry chirps out the perky "Popular" with abandon, and brings unforeseen insight to her delivery of "Thank Goodness," while deGuzman gives strong voice to her idealism in "The Wizard and I," soars both vocally and literally in "Defying Gravity," and erupts in a cathartic breakdown in"No Good Deed." The co-stars harmonize beautifully in "What Is This Feeling?" and their moving farewell to one another, "For Good."
The rest of the cast does not disappoint. Jordan Litz is a buff, strikingly handsome Fiyero with a strong voice, slouching in style to "Dancing Through Life," and joining deGuzman in the impassioned "As Long as You're Mine." Broadway regulars Lisa Howard as Madame Morrible and John Bolton as the Wizard deliver the goods as deceitful power brokers, with Bolton having a splendid time singing and dancing through "Wonderful." Kimberly Pederson as Elphaba's sister Nessarose, Jake Pederson as Boq, a lovesick Munchkin boy, and Michael Genet as doomed Doctor Dillamond give winning performances, and the ensemble, whether in the form of flying monkeys, Munchkins, or elegant Ozians, never miss a beat.
I would venture to guess the words "goodness" and "wicked" are used more often in Wicked than in any other ten musicals combined. Like many classic fairy tales, this is a function of their traditional positioning of pure good against pure evil. Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine famously played with that notion in Into the Woods. In that show's "No One Is Alone" characters who have learned through harsh reality that life is not so cut and dried sing, "Witches may be right, giants may be good; you decide what's right, you decide what's good." Glinda and Elphaba's journeys follow a similar path, though their lessons are less about moral relativism and more that evil may be easily disguised as good, and good may be just as easily misunderstood as evil. We confuse the two at our peril.
It is food for thought, absolutely, but such introspection is no prerequisite for enjoying Wicked. The beautiful, sparkling production, tuneful score, and great performances are more than enough to make it, to quote the Wizard, "Wonderful."
Wicked runs through August 28, 2022 at the Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis MN. Tickets: $40.00 - $146.00. Educator and student rush tickets available for all performances, $30.00, cash only, limit of two tickets per ID. For ticket and performance information call 612-339-7007 or visit hennepintheatretrust.org. For more information on the tour visit wickedthemusical.com/tickets/#tour.
Music and Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz; Book: Winnie Holzman, based on the novel by Gregory McGuire; Director: Joe Mantello; Musical Staging: Wayne Cilento; Settings: Eugene Lee; Costumes: Susan Hilferty; Lighting: Kenneth Posner; Sound: Tony Meola; Projections: Elaine J. McCarthy; Hair and Wigs: Tom Watson; Special Effects: Chic Silber; Technical Supervisor: Jake Bell; Musical Arrangements: Alex Lacamoire & Stephen Oremus; Dance Arrangements: James Lynn Abbott; Music Director and Conductor: Evan Rolder; Music Coordinator: Michael Keller; Associate Set Designer: Edward Pierce; Associate Director: Lisa Leguillou; Associate Choreographer: Corinne McFadden Herrera; Casting: The Telsey Office, Craig Burns, C.S.A.; Production Stage Manager: David O'Brien; Executive Producers: Marcia Goldberg and Nina Essman.
Cast: Alexia Acebo (Witch's mother/ensemble), John Bolton (the Wonderful Wizard of Oz), Remmie Bourgeois (ensemble), Anthony Lee Bryant (swing), Jordon Casanova (ensemble), Lissa deGuzman (Elphaba), Matt Densky (ensemble), Marie Eife (ensemble), Ryan Patrick Farrell (ensemble), KC Fredericks (swing), Michael Genet (Doctor Dillamond), Sara Gonzales (ensemble), Chelsea Cree Groen (ensemble), Lisa Howard (Madame Morrible), Kimberly Immanuel (Nessarose), Marina Lazzaretto (swing), Jordan Litz (Fiyero), Megan Loomis (Midwife/ensemble), Ryan Mac (ensemble), Brittany Marcell Monachino (ensemble), Jennafer Newberry (Glinda), Jake Pederson (Boq), David Scott Purdy (swing), Jackie Raye (ensemble), Rebecca Gans Reavis (ensemble), Andy Richardson (ensemble), Paul Schwensen (ensemble), Wayne Schroeder (Witch's father/Ozian official), Jenna Nicole Schoen (swing), Nicky Venditti (Chistery, through August 7/swing), Natalia Vivino (standby for Elphaba), Brion Marquis Watson (Chistery, August 12 28), Justin Wirick (ensemble).