Featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and the book by Winnie Holzman, “Wicked” follows the story of popular, peppy Glinda and a misunderstood green girl named Elphaba as they meet at the magical Shiz University, going from foes to friends during strange times in the Land of Oz.
“Wicked” is based on the best-selling 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire and has won 50 major awards, including a Grammy® and three Tony® Awards. The story explores the question of what it is to be truly “wicked”. A girl in the Ozian crowd asks, “Why does wickedness happen?” Glinda replies, “That's a good question. One that many people find confusifying: Are people born Wicked? Or do they have Wickedness thrust upon them?” The Wizard himself says, “The truth isn't a thing of fact, or reason. It's simply what everyone agrees on.”
Along with the bigger question of good and evil, “Wicked” is full of fun, fancy, first loves, jealousy, rivalry and everything that makes for a great soap opera... on stage… with magic and singing.
When Elphaba arrives at the University with her beautiful, wheelchair-bound sister Nessarose, she soon finds she has more to contend with than her own father’s disappointment in her. Her classmates immediately shun her for being different, with the bullying lead by Glinda (a.k.a. Galinda). Throw in awkward Boq’s unrequited love for Glinda, along with Glinda and Elphaba’s rival feelings for gorgeous Fiyero, and there’s plenty of drama to go around. Adding more fire to the already boiling pot, Madame Morrible makes Glinda and Elphaba roommates. Not enough excitement? All of the animals in the Land of Oz are suddenly losing their power to speak, and apparently the Ozian Government is a bit corrupt. Let the story ensue.
The relationships in this story are wonderful. Hayley Podschun is an effervescent Glinda in opposition to Jennifer DiNoia’s socially aware Elphaba. Their meeting and forced rooming situation provides a nice adversarial spark in the song “What is This Feeling.” The push and pull continues into their rival crush as Fiyero (played by David Nathan Perlow) enters the picture and the cast parties through “Dancing Through Life.” But not long thereafter, Elphaba begins to shine at school and pulls Glinda into the spotlight with her, which cements the two as complicated friends. Their growing friendship reaches a bubbly sweet-spot with Glinda’s charismatic song “Popular”, where she brings Elphaba into the fold.
Their relationship is tested throughout the show. Boy-band-beautiful Fiyero initially gravitates towards Glinda, but has a change of heart as he sees the beauty within Elphaba. Caught in the crossfire of the women’s romantic entanglements are Boq (played by Cleveland area native Alex Wyse) and unsuspecting Nessarose (played by Emily Behny), who is infatuated with him. What further tears some people apart and draws others closer together? Elphaba’s rise against the oppression of the Animals of Oz, and the growing corruption of the city’s government officials are electrifying catalysts that force everyone to choose a side, or to take cover until the chaos blows over.
With all of the upheaval about, an innocent and well-intended Elphaba is painted as an enemy of Oz, and becomes the “Wicked Witch of the West” as she is known today.
Show stoppers in this production include Elphaba’s powerfully belted “Defying Gravity” and the cathartic, tear-jerker duet between Elphaba and Glinda, “For Good.”
Other performances of mention include likeable Kathy Fitzgerald as a stern headmistress, and Walker Jones as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, who exposes the darker side to Oz with charisma and a little sleaze.
So how does Elphaba finally become “wicked”? The show leaves the question open as a twist on itself, showing that intentions matter, the truth gets cloudy and good can be up for sale. What do you believe? You can find out for yourself in this blockbuster production, running now through January 5, 2014 at the State Theatre at PlayhouseSquare. Complete performance and ticket information can be found at www.playhousesquare.org, or by calling 216-241-6000.