Attending a Thursday afternoon matinee at PlayhouseSquare is a fascinating experience. These are the performances in which they bus in students from local and not so local high schools and middle schools to see a show. For many, it is the first time that they have ever experienced a live musical performance. It was with this premonition that I entered the State Theatre with an open mind.
The show is “Wicked” and it is the perfect vehicle in which to introduce young and eager theater goers to the magic of PlayhouseSquare. The show deals with the struggles that all teenagers face…mainly the difficulty of finding their own “voice” and fitting in with the rest of the crowd.
Elphaba (later to be known as the Wicked Witch of the West) has green skin resulting from mysterious circumstances at the time of her conception. This causes her to be an outcast in the country of Oz. I found this interesting considering the fact that Oz harbors an array of talking animals and Munchkins, but apparently skin color and attitude is as much a problem there as can be in our own real world.
Elphaba is very bright and ambitious but has been reduced to the role of caretaker for her wheelchair bound sister, Nessarose, (later to be known as the Wicked Witch of the East for those of you keeping score in your programs). Elphaba blames herself for her sister’s plight. Upon arriving at Shiz School, two events happen which change Elphaba’s life forever. One is when her witching power is revealed and she is elevated to the status of preferred student by Morrible the school administrator, the other when she becomes the roommate of Galinda (later to be known as Glinda the Good Witch of the North).
Galinda is everything that Elphaba is not. She is popular, pretty, outgoing and sparkly. They start off as antagonists (as most polar opposites do) but eventually begin to realize the talents that each one possesses. Enter Fiyero, a school bouncing frat boy who gets by on his good looks and personality until that begins to wear thin then he “transfers” to the next school down the yellow brick road. Both girls fall for him with Galinda assuming control of her new beau although he is totally unaware of what is happening. His true feelings are for Elphaba.
As the show goes on, Elphaba is further ostracized for her work in recognizing the talking animals of Oz as full citizens. Due to her attempts to free the talking monkeys (who are able to fly due to a spell of hers) she becomes hunted. While hiding out at her sister’s castle she is able to conjure up the ruby slippers for Nessarose which enables her to walk again. At his point the story runs parallel to Frank L. Baum’s book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” that was later made into the movie “The Wizard of Oz” but with some very ingenious twists and an ending that brings a smile to all. At this point I will halt the narrative for to give more information would give too much of the surprise away.
As for the production, it is top notch. The stage setting is complex and with somewhere over forty scene changes that make it a marvel to watch the seamless transition from one local to the next. Costuming is elaborate and colorful with careful attention given to the smallest of details including the wonderfully inventive headgear. Stage mechanics are well done with flying monkeys, Galinda descending from high above in a “bubble”, Elphaba being hoisted high on her broom and the head of the great wizard as it booms forth. The orchestra of sixteen members (ten of which are local musicians) plays a combination of twenty seven instruments and literally fills the huge hall with sound.
The acting is spot on and the singing is superb. Of special note are Hayley Podschun as Galinda for her bell clear soprano and Jennifer DiNoia as Elphaba for her powerful show stopping renditions. As with some Broadway musicals the songs themselves are rather unremarkable with nothing that is hummable as you leave the theater. It is the performance by the cast that makes them special at that moment.
Prude Alert: This is truly a family geared show that has great visuals, special effects and story. It is one that you could safely bring most of the family to see. I would caution on bringing very young children due to the loudness and intensity of some of the scenes.
A Word About the Audience: As I mentioned earlier, the audience was made up primarily of Middle School and High School Students having their first live theater experience. I must say that I was impressed by their behavior. They were polite as well as respectful. During the quiet parts of the show they kept noise to a bare minimum, they laughed at the funny parts and cheered where appropriate. It is said that great audiences encourage performers to give great performances and I felt that this was truly the case yesterday. My hat goes off to the teachers and administrators who felt that experiencing live theater is important in their student’s development into fine adults. There are many who are involved in the fine arts today who owe their love of theater to a school experience.
A special shout-out to the great students and teachers of the following schools: Ohio Virtual Academy, Chagrin Falls, Ohio; Norwalk High School, Norwalk, Ohio; Kirtland High School, Kirtland, Ohio; Norwayne High School, Creston, Ohio; Pymatuning Valley High School, Lodi, Ohio; Glenoak High School, Canton, Ohio; Imagine Bella Academy, Cleveland, Ohio; Jackson School of the Arts, Massillon, Ohio; Rocky River High School, Rocky River, Ohio; Sandy Valley High School, Magnolia, Ohio; Clearview High School, Lorain, Ohio, Lakota High School, Kansas, Ohio; Monroeville High School, Monroeville, Ohio; Smithville High School, Smithville, Ohio; Elyria High School; Fairview Middle School, Fairview, Pennsylvania; Boardman High School, Youngstown, Ohio; Firestone High School English Department, Akron, Ohio; Firestone High School VPA Program, Akron, Ohio; and Massillon City Schools, Massillon, Ohio.
Shooting From the Lip (My Last Words): “Wicked” now playing in the State Theatre at PlayhouseSquare is a delightful coming of age story that gives you the back story to one of our most treasured movies, “The Wizard of Oz”. It combines music, costumes, acting, singing, dancing and magic in a swirling dazzlement of colors and sound that will excite all the senses. This is one you should not miss.
Special Mention: In order to experience the show, I had to miss opening night and procure a ticket for the Thursday matinee performance. For this particular show, PlayhouseSquare has instituted a “Wicked Ticket Lottery”. Here is how it works. At any performance you show up two and one half hours prior to curtain. You fill out a contest form and receive a wrist band showing that you have done so. Two hours prior to curtain names are drawn and the winners are able to purchase tickets for $25.00 each (maximum of two). Children are also allowed to participate. There are rules. One: you must be present to win, two: You must have a valid ID and three: It is cash only. Winners also receive a pin saying “I Won The Wicked Lottery”. My seat was in the first row, five seats in from the left. They were wicked.
“Wicked” will play through January 5, 2014 at the State Theatre at PlayhouseSquare. Performances will be Tuesdays – Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 1:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Due to the holidays there will be no performances on Wednesday, December 25, or Wednesday, January 1. Additional performances will be held on Monday, December 23 at 8:00 p.m. and Monday, December 30 at 8:00 p.m.
There are still some tickets left for “Wicked”. Tickets start at just $30, and may be purchased in person at the PlayhouseSquare ticket office (1519 Euclid Avenue in downtown Cleveland), online at http://www.playhousesquare.org/ or by calling 216-241-6000, or you may try your luck with the $25.00 ticket lottery that is happening prior to each performance. “Wicked” is part of the KeyBank Broadway Series at PlayhouseSquare.