SAN DIEGO—She’s baaaaaaack with a vengeance! “Who”, you ask? Elphaba of Wicked fame that’s who course. Just as the ad reads, she flew back into San Diego for a month.
The Tony Award Winning Broadway musical Wicked is back by popular demand at the Civic Theatre in downtown San Diego. Brought to us by Broadway/San Diego, it is expected to fill the house throughout its month’s run through August 30th.
With music by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holtzman based on the best selling 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire (you must read the book and his “Son of a Witch”) the story of Wicked takes place before and up to the wonderful Wizard Of Oz characters in L. Frank Baum’s 1939 film emerge.
Wicked first came to San Diego two years ago, is still playing in New York (it opened in 2003) and everyone I know can’t wait to see it again or for the first time ever. It’s clever, smart, witty and fun all rolled into one. Schwartz’s tunes are brilliant and catchy Holtzman’s book is clear and memorable and overall it’s a show worthy of its popularity. (One of Schwartz’s more snappy songs in the show “Popular” sung by Glinda’s Clarke is well, one of the more popular and recognizable in the show).
References in Wicked are made throughout as to how it and Wizard of Oz vaguely connect and anyone who has seen the screen version and fell in love with Dorothy, Aunt Em, Toto and that group will remember how Dorothy takes a tumble into the land of OZ after a tornado rips through Kansas. The rest, as they say, is history. Then there’s Maguire’s back-story to the story and Wicked is it!
The two main characters around which the story revolves are Elphaba (Donna Vivino) the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda (Katie Rose Clarke) The Good Witch of the North. The two form an unholy alliance when they are thrown together in college, as in Shiz University, as roommates. Elphaba was supposed to be rooming with her sister Nessarose (Amanda Rose), who has yet to become the Wicked Witch of the East, and is wheelchair bound, but instead is assigned to be Glinda’s roommate while Nessarose stays with the Headmistress. More of her later.
Their behaviors and their personalities both as roommates and as women are as diametrically opposed to each other as night is to day. Elphaba is green, (an accident of birth explained later in the story), discriminated against, smart, not overly friendly with the ‘frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn attitude about what folks think. Glinda (she used to be Galinda) is beautiful, popular, a tad bit superficial at first and usually gets anything and anyone she wants. She eventually befriends Elphaba and tries to teach her the ins and outs of being popular. (“Popular”)
Over time we get to learn the story of the why of their friendship and how they got from being roommates to friends to adversaries to both loving the handsome Fiyero (Richard H. Blake) to their visit to Emerald City and their fateful meeting with the Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Lenny Wolpe). It is here they meet an Ozian Official (Kevin McMahon) who has a secret, which is later revealed. It is also at this meeting that Elphaba gets to use her magical powers.
Madame Morrible (Myra Lucretia Taylor) is the head Mistress in the school who sets up the meeting between the Wizard and Elphaba and who, we learn is also a shill (his press secretary) for the Wizard by luring the girls to Emerald City. She’s also the one who declares Elphaba a ‘Wicked Witch’, someone who
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is not to be trusted when Elphaba refuses to do the Wizard’s dirty work. This is the first time we see Elphaba fly on her broomstick as she tries to escape from the Wizard, Madame Morrible and Emerald City. (“Defying Gravity”)
Maguire’s back story is fascinating and engrossing, eventually bringing in all the elements of Oz, the munchkins and characters from Baum’s original novel together while being original and novel on it’s own accord. Secrets are exposed, threats and promises made, power is transferred to the most unlikely of characters until finally the now Glinda the Good (as she now wants to be called) promises the citizens of Oz reform. Elphaba and Fiyero secretly escape from Oz and Dorothy, ah yes! Dorothy, well…
One can’t help but being intrigued with Wicked. Between the Schwartz/Holtzman lyrics and book, this New York ‘blockbuster’, Tony and Grammy award winner, and this current touring show which is packed with endless talent some even local, is as good as it gets.
Kevin McMahon who plays the Witches' Father and Ozian Official (originally from my neck of the woods in Massachusetts) was a popular face in the forever Forever Plaid as Jinx at The Theatre in Old Town. He’s the guy you love to hate as Elphaba and Nessaroses father. Merideth Kaye Clark another local is standby for Elphaba. Some might remember her in the North Coast Repertory Theatre production of Honky Tonk Angels.
Both Clarke and Vivino are at the top of their game as Glinda and Elphaba respectively. Clarke is a kick; pardon the pun, as she does her little hair flip/ foot sweep, kick to emphasize her ‘popularity’. Clarke (Light in the Piazza touring show) with her beautiful soprano voice belts out just about every tune that comes her way, including “Popular” and “I’m Not That Way”
Vivino, who was in the original Broadway cast of Le Miserables as the young Cosette (she was 8) plays Elphaba with more dignity and depth, less anger yet no less convincing of her plight than the original. She too has a strong set of vocal chords (“I’m Not That Girl” and “No Good Deed”) that reach the top balcony of the Civic.
Lenny Wolpe who also played the Wizard in the Broadway production is smooth and suave as the empty shelled but nasty Wizard. Myra Lucretia Taylor is force to be reckoned with as Madame Morrible and Richard L. Blake, who got off to a shaky start on opening night did a fast recoup as Fiyero, the boy hero and love interest of both Glinda and Elphaba.
Susan Hilferty’s costumes lend to the colorful imagery. With huge clockwork turning gears (Eugene Lee) towering over the players and equally scary looking greens lighting up both dragon and Wizard figures (Kenneth Posner) we are taken into the Land of Oz and on a fantastically thrilling journey as the magical story of Wicked begins. It’s wonderfully wicked and I love it!
For the next month, Broadway/San Diego is putting on a series of events and promotions. One in particular caught my attention: The Jewish Community Center and Broadway/ San Diego have teamed up to present Camp Broadway JCC. The campers will see Wicked, tour backstage and be taught a MasterClass by members of the cast, Hat’s off to their community service!
For more information check out broadwaysd.com
Wicked continues through Aug. 30th.
See you at the theatre.