Someone suggested I read the book. I did. It sucked. Happily, the musical shreds the book, balls up the confetti, throws it into a blender, and squeezes the results out the other end of the Broadway Tony Award-Winning Musicals grinder and a hit is born.
Last night I went to see the touring company in SF, and in a nutshell:
- All the leading parts I saw are well-cast, including the understudies
- Set design is mostly awesome, and special effects close to flawless
- Costume workmanship looked super
- Makeup was so well done I only now remembered to say something about it
- Killer seats - 7 rows from the stage, left aisle of the center section
- The woman playing Elphaba (the green witch) is named Teal. Yes, really.
- Horrible audio mixing, the orchestra drowned out almost everyone
- Some flubbed lines
- Costume design was way over the top, and most of them looked uncomfortable
- The mechanical dragon atop the proscenium was a massive waste of time & energy. Totally pointless, and ugly too.
Kendra Kassebaum plays Glinda, and she does Spoiled beautifully. Great voice, lovely cheerleader's face, and my only complaint is she added some flounces which looked too much like the early stages of atropine poisoning. Teal Wicks as Elphaba (aka The Wicked Witch of the West) covered the full range of emotions from shy and self-effacing to PETA-level animal rights crusader flying wonder woman, and while her voice is powerful and clear, I think the score may have been tweaked a bit to cover a lack of higher register range. Just guessing, I could be wrong. Nicolas Dromard is the claasical handsome prince Fiyero, and he is the whole package of singer, dancer, actor and DDG heart throb. Since it was a mid-week show, Patty Duke was replaced as Madame Morrible by BET favorite Celisse Henderson, who was very solid in the role. Nessarose also was played by a capable stand-in, Natalie Daradich. Lee Wilkoff as the wizard inspired me in a different way - I know I can play that part better than he did, except for one high note. There was one casting WTF: Boq the Munchkin is played woodenly by a too-tall Eddy Rioseco.
The songs, how could I leave them out? Popular was delightful, but just a tiny bit less so than the original. I got the feeling Glinda was being rushed through her magic wand and beautification routine. The first punchline of What Is This Feeling (loathing) was ruined by the orchestra drowning out the key word, but Glinda and Elphaba managed to pull it out by the end of the piece. As Long As You're Mine was musically one of the best pieces, but the director went bare stage, fully clothed for what is Elphaba's devirginification, and just sucked all the sexiness out. Defying Gravity was not as uplifting as I'd expected, but I cried real tears over For Good, it was so beautifully done, minimal orchestra presence, and being able to see for the first time whose lines were whose (Glinda and Elphaba have similar voices on the CD). It was "Like a handprint on my heart" which did it. I Am Not That Girl was also a tear-jerker, but definitely topped for sniffles by the reprise. So much pathos in so few words. Stephen Schwartz has written beautiful and powerful words to match his melodies.
There was a lot of dancing, but the choreography was hard to follow. There is lots of flailing and spinning. There are some acrobatics, but they had the feeling of "hey, I can do a back flip" "oh? well,we'll try to work a couple in".
Costumes. Pardon my bipolarism, but they looked high-budget gorgeous, and I did not like most of them. The Emerald City denizens looked like they were at a costume party in The Jetsons, everyone is in wigs and hats, and they all looked so uncomfortable. The Shiz student uniforms were not uniform. OTOH, the guard costumes were very close to the movie's, and looked excellent, as did Elphaba's second act black dress. Glinda's costumes were all great, except the pink party dress was an awkward length.
Sets screamed "steampunk" and were inspired by the book's clockwork theme, which in a way is unfortunate because that was one point which the book did incredibly poorly when it comes to being true to Baum's original. But beautiful work on the sets, and the flying in and out vertically and horizontally made me want to be a stage techie again. Lighting ran the gamut of piss poor all the way to "wow". They had a rotating special which simulated rainfall which was super. Stage fog and tightly beamed spots made one of Elphaba's faux flying scenes a "wow" moment. There was no real flying in this show, which disappointed me, especially since the way they covered it was usually pretty lame.
All in all worth seeing if you have enough AMEX points to cover the $94 price+tax+fees. It's a good theater, balcony seats might be fine too if they are not too far off to the side.
Wicked runs at the Orpheum through October 11.