Natalie Daradich and Vicki Noon Photo by Joan Marcus
Power and control. Oppression and manipulation. Fear and prejudice. Theses are the themes that weave like a yellow brick road through the musical Wicked. The Broadway touring production, now at the Marcus Center Uihlein Hall, fills both ruby slippers in satisfying the principals of theatre and providing a spectacle of magic, music and fantasy.
For those not familiar, Wicked presupposes that The Wizard of Oz was just the white icing of a tale for the elaborate dark forest cake underneath. Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman, Wicked looks at the fantastical world of Oz through the eyes of Elphaba, the character who would eventually become infamously known as the Wicked Witch of the West. The novel shows the witch as someone torn by unrequited love and trying to act in the best interests of Oz against a corrupt and manipulative government. In the story, Elphaba and Galinda, who will become Glinda the Good Witch, are roommates at college. Galinda is rich and spoiled, while Elphaba smart, bitter, and a pariah among her peers. It removes the clearly drawn lines of good and evil in The Wizard of Oz and places sympathy with the witch, presented as an outcast and wrongly feared– mostly because of the green complexion she was born with. While The Wizard of Oz, although a genius story in its own right, has dealings with mostly archetypal characters, Wicked breaks down those walls and makes it about more than just friends, family and adolescent change.
The musical, although taking many liberties with the source material, manages, through imagination and inventiveness, to maintain the themes of the plot: power earned through the illusion of magic and sorcery, fear of what you don’t understand, and that good and evil are not opposites but genuinely inseparable and entwined. Indeed, no one is entirely good and no one is completely evil, despite how some might be perceived by the masses.
Stephen Schwartz’s music is instantly engaging and his lyrics are cleverly dense with foreshadowing and allusion to it's precedents. Chills are sure to ripple through the audience from numerous numbers, the pinnacle being Defying Gravity, the number that ends the first act. The choreography shines upon the entrance of Fiyero, the love interest of both young witches. Genius movement of the ensemble neatly foreshadows to who the popular and good looking— yet thick –Fiyero will eventually become.
Natalie Daradich has endless fun in her role as the popular goody-good Glinda. She is lithe, fun to watch and reaches far to bring depth to a shallow character. As Elphaba,Vicki Noon is a delight to see and hear. Her stage presence is riveting– not just because she’s green –and her singing is magnanimous. Kristine Reese, Zach Hanna and Don Amendolla offer great stage support as Nessarose, Boq and the Wizard respectively. As Fiyero, Chris Peluso steps smoothly through the physical requirements of the role but falters a bit when it comes to his singing prowess.
The costume design is perfectly unified and inventive, colorful and fun, yet careful not to go over the top. The elaborate costumes of Madame Morrible, headmistress of the university, are the highlight of the characters’ attire. Besides an odd mechanical dragon that overlooks the stage, the set magnificently supports the themes of machinations and manipulations of the government— as well as time and history –with numerous images and stage pieces composed of clocks and spinning gears. Sometimes the lighting is so beautiful and breathtaking, be it the sky backdrops, the shine of the Emerald City, or a sorcery effect, it becomes distracting to the drama of the characters.
Wicked will be playing at the Marcus Center through August 8th. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30p.m., Friday at 8:00p.m., Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00p.m., and Sunday at 1:00 and 6:30p.m. Best available seating remains for performances during the last week of the run. It runs approximately 2 hours and 50 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. www.marcuscenter.org