By Oline H. Cogdill
So much has been written about Wicked—now 20 years on Broadway and making its umpteenth stop in South Florida—it seems like defying gravity to find something fresh to say about this popular musical. But that’s easy to do when Wicked’s latest incarnation is as entertaining as the production now playing at the Arsht Center through March 5 and then transferring to the Kravis Center March 29 through April 9.
Wicked has become one of the defining musicals of girls, teens and young women, and for good reasons. Wicked shows how it feels like to be an outsider—something I think even those Regina Georges go through, and yes, I know I am melding female-centric musicals. Wicked builds on how forceful girl power can be as it illustrates how important it is to find your life’s mission; how sad, yet how freeing it can be when you find your heroes don’t live up to the image you have of them; and how demeaning bigotry is.
Above all, Wicked is about the power of female friendships—many of which often are forged in life-changing situations—grade school, high school or college; in battle; at work; or buying a house and becoming life-long friends with a neighbor. For many of us, true friends truly are family.
And that’s what happens to blonde and popular Glinda and uber-green, friendless Elphaba in Wicked, an imagining of what might have happened in The Wizard of Oz, before Dorothy, Toto and crew arrived in the Emerald City. Wicked bills itself as “the untold true story of the Witches of Oz.”
Before Glinda became known as the Good Witch and Elphaba was called the “Wicked” Witch of the West, they were just two college kids who meet at Shiz University.
Here’s the plot, quoting from my review five years ago. Elphaba and Glinda are opposites who immediately hate each other. Elphaba grew up an outcast in her own family, rejected by her father, the governor of Munchkinland. Used to being friendless and ignored has made the green girl a seeker of justice and truth. The perky, shallow Glinda is used to be the most popular girl in the room, always getting her way and any boy she wants. Glinda resents that Elphaba is clearly the more talented in sorcery. But their relationship takes a turn when Glinda regrets an act meant to humiliate Elphaba. From this discourse, unbreakable bonds develop between the two, even when Elphaba is falsely accused of being wicked.
A first-rate cast, terrific production values, a solid orchestra and tight, inspiring choreography combined to make this incarnation of Wicked a wonderful time at the theater.
Lissa Deguzman as Elphaba and Jennafer Newberry as Glinda both approach their roles with energy and insight, making their story arc and change believable. They each lade so much depth and emotion in songs such as “I’m Not that Girl,” “No Good Deed,” and especially “For Good.” Both state in their bios that these are dream roles and they make those dreams come through with aplomb.
Christian Thompson adds sturdy support and love interest as Prince Fiyero. A solid actor and singer, Thompson also makes that crucial story arc believable as he goes from arrogant, entitled prince, to a man in love to a seeker of justice, no matter the personal cost. Thompson grew up in Oakland Park, Florida, and his mother, no doubt, was in the audience opening night to cheer on her gifted son.
Others adding to the Wicked world are Natalie Venetia Belson as Madame Morrible, Tara Kostmayer as Nessarose, Kyle McArthur as Boq, Boise Holmes as Doctor Dillamond and Timothy Shew as that all-seeing Wizard.
Kudos to the rousing traveling orchestra, sweetened with local musicians, expert lighting designers and those working the light boards, and stage managers. And special applause to each swing and member of the ensemble—they couldn’t do it without you.
This production of Wicked doesn’t skimp on any of the musical’s showy aspects. Wicked is just as much a spectacle, maybe even more so. Flying monkeys! Yep, they are there and actually seem as if they make invade the audience. The glowing emerald lights of Oz are so bright they are actually a bit blinding. And that first-act show-stopping ender “Defying Gravity” remains a gasping, mouth-open, awe-struck moment. And who wouldn’t want to make an entrance in Glinda’s cute little bubble carriage.
An aside, on opening night at the Arsht, we spotted many young and adult audience members of all sexes sporting witch’s hats, top hats, Wicked apparel, and more, including the young person at the end of our row decked out in a wizard cap and a beret. Embrace the fandom.
Wicked’s staying power shows no signs of abating, having just celebrated its 20th anniversary on Broadway, making it one of the longest-running productions. It is still kind of amazing that Wicked ever made to the stage as it is based on an odd novel by Gregory Maguire. But was redeemed by a score by Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Pippin), book by Winnie Holzman, and direction by Joe Mantello. The musical staging is by Wayne Cilento with Susan Hilferty’s costumes, the late Eugene Lee’s sets and Kenneth Posner’s lighting.
The last time I reviewed Wicked my 13-year-old goddaughter accompanied me. Wicked was her first Broadway-style musical. She’s 18 now and is a frequent guest with me as is her brother. And yes, she’s still a Wicked fan. This time, it was her mother’s turn at Wicked—a dear friend I also consider my sister.
This Wicked is just wickedly good.
Wicked runs through March 5 at the Ziff Ballet Opera House at Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Tickets are $33-$193. Running time approximately 150 minutes with a 20-minute intermission. Call 305-949-6722 or visit arshtcenter.org for information.
Wicked also will run March 29 through April 9 at the Alexander W. Dreyfoos Concert Hall at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Tickets are $63-$223. Call 561-832-7469 or visit kravis.org/events/wicked for information.