Theater / When I saw Cats two years ago at the Blaisdell Concert Hall, I realized why I don’t go to musicals: They don’t make any sense. How am I supposed to believe that singing cats immediately know the words to impromptu songs?
Thankfully, that isn’t an issue with Wicked. For an audience ranging from Broadway elitists to young girls looking for a role model, the “untold story of the witches of Oz” provides an entertaining and eye-opening journey that almost fits into the Oz universe with very few bumps along the (green brick) road. And it’s full of politics for those who choose to see them.
Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, Wicked tells the story of Glinda, the Good Witch, and the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, from the time they went to school together until after Dorothy came crashing into their lives. In a nice reversal, Glinda comes off as a plastic, shallow, holier-than-thou cupcake princess who demands (and generally gets) her way, while Elphaba is the smart, independent outcast whose awkward adolescence is all the more painful because, as Kermit taught us, it’s not easy being green. It’s Elphaba’s dream to meet The Wizard, but when she discovers his totalitarian plan to take away the animals’ ability to speak, she rebels against him and his followers.
The alternate perspective of the witches’ lives is a fun expansion of the Oz universe, already so extensive with films, musicals and books based on the magical land. The plot overlaps that of The Wizard of Oz to allow closure for the Wicked story, but it creates holes where there would be none if everything had been resolved before the entrance of Dorothy. However, this is a very minor distraction from a superbly talented cast, brilliant songs, majestic sets and creative costuming.
As Glinda, Patti Murin brings all the naivete, sugar and spunk of a young, popular girl. Though not as skilled in witchcraft as Elphaba, she wins over her peers and professors with impressive daddy connections and generous, though not exactly philanthropic, outreach to others. It’s easy to see how others look up to her when she manages to stay away from the bitchy side of being the best, especially when she abandons her bitterness towards Elphaba and decides to give her lessons in popularity.
Dee Roscioli, reprising her Broadway role as Elphaba, emotes like no other in the production. All her love, fear, determination and sorrow come forth in the musical’s strong numbers with a powerful voice that never falters. She’s believable as everything except nasty, which she never portrays, making her the unlikely heroine we can’t stop cheering for.
Roscioli is one of many returning to the national tour of Wicked, including Kailua-born Cliffton Hall, who plays suave Fiyero. Though the Broadway production is a separate entity, some actors reprised their Broadway roles here, such as Tom McGowan (The Wizard).
Wickedly funny, well thought-out, cohesive, touching and full of “Ohhhhh, that’s where that comes from!” moments (ever wonder where Elphaba got that pointy hat?), this production has restored my faith in musicals. Go see it, even if your only option is to show up early every night for a chance at those $25 lottery tickets. When your family and friends want to smack you for singing “Popular” 24/7 because it’s just so DAMN CATCHY, you’ll know it was worth it.