“Wicked” is based on the Gregory Maguire novel, “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” which itself is a spin on L. Frank Baum’s classic tale that we all know and love. The wildly popular musical was first shown at the Gershwin Theatre on Broadway in 2003 and since then has grown to ensuing heights of success and fame with an unwavering fan base.
Diluting the wickedness from the Witch, “Wicked” tells the backstory of the Wicked Witch of the West and her life before she supposedly became notoriously evil. Elphaba (played by Talia Suskauer) is the governor’s eldest daughter, who was cursed at birth with a green outer appearance. She’s misunderstood and isolated, and doesn’t realize her true potential. That is, until, she enrolls at Shizz University, where she meets Galinda (played by Alison Bailey), a blonde, preppy, sociable, and extremely popular girl. The dichotomous pair form an unlikely friendship and embark on adventures that change the course of both of their lives and the future of Oz. “Wicked” explores themes of friendship, loyalty, and trust, all the while showcasing innuendos of darker themes such as corrupt government, civil rights and public disgrace.
Laughter ensued from the audience all night each time Glinda (Bailey) was onstage. Her delivery of the character was just impeccable! Everything from her bubble gum personality to her preppy body language to her shrill speaking voice — it was like this was her lifetime role! Her pretentiously made-up jargon (“confusifying”) humorously played into the audience’s hearts. Glinda charmingly captured the audience with her whimsical remarks and girly antics, from start to finish. Although the musical is meant to highlight both girls’ backstories, Glinda outshined Elphaba most of the time.
That isn’t to say the Wicked Witch herself was a disappointment at all, Suskauer’s presentation of Elphaba made the character lovable and relatable. However, her musical performances weren’t as good as Bailey’s, plain and simple. Her highlight solo number in the show, “Defying Gravity,” while powerful and loud, sounded strained and blaring. Ultimately, the song is saved by the theatrical processes of jaw-dropping special effects. But I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as say “Popular,” a fun, go-with-the-flow song that Glinda sings in Act One.
I absolutely loved the chemistry between Elphaba and Glinda. The actresses performed amazingly alongside one another, and I enjoyed every moment that they were onstage together, from the incessant bickering and name calling to the heartfelt somber scenes, their relationship tugged the heartstrings of the audience.
A touching lyric from the Elphaba-Glinda duet, “For Good,” goes: “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” I looked around the audience to find somber, emotional faces when the two parted one another toward the end of Act Two.
The standout of the entire musical is the music itself! Each cast member brought her or his own unique voice color and tonality to the house. Composed by Stephen Schwartz, most of Wicked’s score is composed of thematic music. The musical naturally ventures into ominous and dark themes. “No Good Deed,” sung by Elphaba, features demonic spell chants and darker chords. “Something Bad,” sung by Doctor Dillamond (Tom Flynn), is sung in the minor key and also features that ominous theme. But sometimes, the music is upbeat and exciting. The first half of “Dancing Through Life,” sung by Fiyero and Glinda, is my personal favorite. It begins with an 80’s style serenade performed by Fiyero to Glinda, and features thrilling and carefree lyrics.
The outstanding ensemble was also a big factor of the show’s success. Their pieces of dialogue complemented the main casts’ lines perfectly. To me, even background banter played into a big part of audience interpretation and reaction. It was definitely well-rehearsed to the extent that it didn’t seem rehearsed. The impressive choreography was complex and sophisticated, featuring high kicks and dizzying spins — 10/10, great job ensemble.
Understandably, even though Elphaba’s character does not demand flashy clothes or costume pieces, my only wish is that some detail could have been given to her costumes after the conclusion of Act One, following her magnificent solo “Defying Gravity,” a heart-pounding, formidable, powerful song where Elphaba realizes her true potential. A little bling bling wouldn’t have hurt at all.
A major highlight prop of the show is Glinda’s bubble: a sphere shaped platform that raises her above the citizens of Oz, magically allowing her to fly. Watching Glinda whiz across the stage while singing was unforgettable. I felt like a little girl watching a Disney princess in real life.
I was however, slightly disappointed with the set of the Emerald City. Aside from the jarringly bright neon LED green lights, there isn’t much of anything else that truly shows why the city is so special, aside from the sophisticated and intricate costumes of the ensemble and how everyone wears sunglasses. Given how hyped up the city is, the set itself isn’t anything particularly spectacular.
One thing I will also say is that the conclusion of the play leaves the audience with something more to be desired. A musical of such grandiose greatness should not be disrespected by a messy ending that the writers give to two of the musical’s central characters. Ultimately, it feels unnatural and a little forced.
All in all, “Wicked” is a gratifyingly amazing show, from its intricate and beautiful costume design, to the spectacularly talented cast. Memorable performances from the main cast and the ensemble kept me enticed all evening, and the set design was amazing. After watching it for the very first time on press night at the Fox, I can see why it has such a dedicated global fan base. It’s a definite must-see for people of all ages, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who can get their hands on some tickets.
Presented by the Fifth Third Bank Broadway In Atlanta, “Wicked” is playing at the Fox Theatre until November 17.