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More than just a prequel to The Wizard of Oz, Wicked is a stunning piece of revisionist storytelling. I knew going in that this was an “Episode I” style story of how good-hearted Elphaba became the Wicked Witch of the West. What I didn’t realize was that the story doesn’t just get us to Dorothy’s arrival in Oz, but rather takes all of our notions of Dorothy’s story and flips them on their head. New context is provided for everything we know about the original story, not just in an “oh, aren’t we clever” sort of way, but rather, in a complete perspective shift that radically changes the way we as an audience perceive the entire story.
Based on the best-selling 1995 novel, the play takes us back to the days when Elphaba used to share a room with Glinda at Shiz Univeristy. As we all know, Glinda would eventually become the bubble-riding bearer of good news, Glinda the Good. What starts out as a relationship based on “pure and utter detestation” eventually becomes a friendship that changes Oz forever. Their journey together, both literal and metaphorical, is always believable and occasionally very powerful.
While I was completely blown away by the incredible story, I was even more impressed with the musical numbers. This is an epic Broadway production with a perfect mix of simple, low-key moments as well as powerful show-stopping numbers. In fact, Act 1 concludes with a number called Defying Gravity that may be one of the most powerful pieces of theatrical music I’ve ever seen performed.
Unlike many musicals, every piece of music serves to advance the story or evolve the characters. There is never a wasted moment, and every musical number counts. Every character the audience is already familiar with comes into play. This doesn’t just provide the backstory to Elphaba and Glinda, but rather, the entirety of Oz. In telling the story of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and even Dorothy herself, a larger story is being told about the corruption inherent in Oz, going all the way up to the Wizard of the title. The story we know is a small piece of the epic whole.
Bringing to life these characters is an amazing cast across-the-board, but of course, the standouts are Natalie Daradich as Glinda and Anne Brummel as Elphaba. The production wouldn’t work if these two characters weren’t believable in their roles. They have to convey multiple levels of depth to their characters, always keeping us in the moment while simultaneously never letting us forget what they are going to become. It seems an impossible task, but both performers do a brilliant job.
On top of the complexities of the characters, they are often required to be very funny. That’s one thing I haven’t conveyed yet is the humor throughout this production. The audience was constantly laughing, whether it be at the occasional, but always clever, references to the original, or the hilarious physical comedy that goes into playing the seemingly ditzy Glinda. It turns out that Elphaba is also a very funny character, but mostly through her mockery of the world around her. It’s a very subtle performance, and the audience seemed to love it.
Wicked is a definite crowd-pleaser. The stage design is stunning, the music is thrilling, and the story is far more clever than one would expect. The audience was enraptured from beginning to end, soaking in every moment and reassessing the story they thought they knew so well.
A day-of-performance lottery for a limited number of orchestra seats will be held daily for WICKED, which will be performing from March 9 – April 3 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Each day, 2½ hours prior to show time people who present themselves at the Segerstrom Center Box Office will have their names placed in a lottery drum and then 30 minutes later, names will be drawn for a limited number of orchestra seats at $25 each, cash only. This lottery is available only in-person at the Box Office, with a limit of two tickets per person.
I can’t imagine anybody not loving this incredible show. This really is a must-see production, and one of the greatest theatrical achievements I’ve ever seen.