Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
The musical is based on a novel by Gregory Maguire and is a kind of backstory to L. Frank Baum's classic tale, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." The story begins well before Dorothy's arrival in Oz with several references to the 1939 Wizard of Oz film and Baum's novel throughout.
Elphaba (Mary Kate Morrissey), later to be known as the Wicked Witch of the West, is born with emerald green skin and the misunderstood, unloved, smart and fiery girl is considered an outcast even within her own family. Elphaba and her crippled sister Nessarose (Catherine Charlebois), whom Elphaba takes care of, have arrived at Shiz University to begin their education. It is here they meet Galinda (Ginna Claire Mason), later to become Glinda the Good Witch of the South, who is the sparkling and bubbling opposite of Elphaba. The two are forced to be roommates and, in spite of their contrasting personalities, viewpoints, rivalry over the same man, and perceptions of the Wizard and his corrupt government, they become friends.
At first, Elphaba and Galinda clash constantly, even during their classes. During a history class with Dr. Dillamond (a talking goat and the last remaining teaching animal in the university), Elphaba learns that years ago many animals taught at the university but in the time since, discrimination has shrunk their numbers to just one. Elphaba plans to ask the Wizard about this when she is presented to him because of her increasing powers.
New on the scene is Fiyero, a roguish young prince who, in spite of his charms, has seen more than his share of universities and has been kicked out of all of them. Galinda is charmed by his lackadaisical nature, even though she is being romantically pursued by Boq (a Munchkin), and soon Elphaba joins the romantic entanglement.
The fabulous 14-member orchestra play a total of 25 instruments, and their combined sound fills the huge expanse of the State Theatre. The costuming and set design combine with the dazzling lighting (Kenneth Posner), video effects and projections (Elaine J. McCarthy), sound (Tony Meola) and special effects to bring magic to the stage.
Giggly Ginna Claire Mason is perfect as Galinda, the sorority darling drama queen of Oz, and a great match for Mary Kate Morrissey's Elphaba. Handsome Jon Robert Hall does a wonderful turn as the multi-faceted Fiyero as he transforms from ne'er do well playboy to serious suitor. Tom McGowan is wonderful as the rather inept and clueless Wizard, and Isabel Keating is deliciously wicked in her own way as Madame Morrible. There is some great highwire flying work to be seen and the various references to the movie help to keep the audience attentive.
Although a bit dark, and thus not suited for the very young, teenagers and up will appreciate the stage magic.
With great acting, wondrous singing, delightful costuming, and set design, Wicked moves much faster than its two and a half hour plus runtime. You will find your eyes continuously scanning the stage as action takes place in all corners of the frame. This is a perfect example of what a great Broadway show can be.
Wicked, through December 3, 2017, in the State Theatre at Playhouse Square in Cleveland, Ohio. Tickets can be purchased online at www.playhousesquare.org, by phone at (216) 241-6000, or at the Playhouse Square Ticket Office located in the outer lobby of the State Theatre.