It is a joyous crowd which embraces the National Tour of Wicked, making its second visit to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Opera House in Washington, DC. A talented and exuberant cast enthusiastically brings this extremely popular musical to life. It is easy to see why Wicked continues to play to sold out crowds on Broadway and in productions around the world.
Based on Gregory Maguire's 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, the musical adaptation, book by Winnie Holzman, music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, tells the story of how Elphaba and Galinda grew up to become the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good. Elphaba is born with green skin after her mother is seduced by a mysterious stranger who plies her with a green elixir. Shunned by her father she is sent to Shiz University along with her younger sister, the wheelchair-bound Nessarose. Forced to room with the irritating and perky Galinda, the two young women despise each other. When Galinda inadvertently shows a kindness to Nessarose the beginnings of friendship develop. The friendship blossoms when a bullying prank Galinda leads against Elphaba backfires.
Meanwhile all is not as it seems in the land of Oz. Talking animals are being persecuted and losing the ability to speak. Madame Morrible seeks to develop Elphaba'sstalents for magic and reluctantly accepts Galinda as a pupil on Elphaba's insistence. When Dr. Dillamond, the only talking animal professor is fired, Galinda decides to change her name to reflect how he mispronounced it, Glinda. Summoned to meet the all powerful Wizard of Oz, Elphaba and Glinda hope that their dreams of a better world will come true. It is that crucial moment in the Emerald City that sets both women on the paths to destiny.
Mr. Maguire's novel was extremely complicated and dense. The musical makes several changes to the narrative,yet creates a satisfying story for the stage. There are enough nods to the original Wizard of Oz story to bring knowing smiles to the audience without being glaringly obvious about it. The set designed by Eugene Lee, lighting designed by Kenneth Posner, and costumes designed by Susan Hilferty with wigs and hair designed by Tom Watson, evoke the original illustrations from the L. Frank Baum stories. The direction by Joe Montello, with musical staging by Wayne Cilento keeps a steady tempo while permitting the emotional core of the tale to unfold without being overwhelmed by the stagecraft.
The cast is clearly enjoying performing this wonderful musical and the ensemble is lively. The supporting roles are well cast. Paul Slade Smith is poignant as the persecuted Dr. Dillamond. Stefanie Brown layers her character's sad arc from cherished, yet pitied young woman to the bitter creature who evolves into the Wicked Witch of the East. Justin Brill has a boyish enthusiasm as the Munchkin, Boq, and handles his transition to the cold, literally heartless Tin Man well. Colin Hanlon's Fiyero is handsome, shallow and heroic all at the same time a suitable leading man for both our leading ladies. Randy Danson is hissable as the corrupt with power Madame Morrible. Mark Jacoby is deliciously enigmatic as the Wizard, at once warm, befuddled and paternalistic with a hint of menace beneath his charming facade.
Amanda Jane Cooper's Glinda just makes you want to slap her upside the head, she is so bubbly and perky and everything you ever hated in that popular girl in school. Yet, she deftly handles the strong interior beneath and navigates what, at first glance is a very unlikeable character, grasping for the limelight Glinda feels she deserves. Yet, Ms. Cooper finds Glinda's hidden good qualities that help the audience realize that she is one of the strongest characters in the play. In the end her Glinda is Glinda the Good.
The strongest character is our girl, Elphaba. A deceptively quiet performance, at first, Dee Roscioli builds her Elphaba into a moral tour de force. By the time, Ms. Roscioli soars, literally, in the climatic act one finale "Defying Gravity," she has grasped ahold of the audience and she takes them swirling through the storm clouds of the rest of Elphaba's journey. It is a masterful performance.
Wicked will be performed in the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Opera House through August 21, 2011. For tickets and other performance information please visit www.kennedy-center.org.