Wicked – the Broadway Musical
Jubilee Auditorium, Edmonton
July 2 – 20, 2014
$50 to $150
Review by GRAHAM HICKS
Normally on Broadway, a “triple threat” refers to musical theatre actors who act, sing and dance.
Wicked is a triple threat of a different sort, so unique as to be almost on its own in the pantheon of active, touring Broadway shows.
Wicked has an extraordinarily creative story line, wonderful songs, and offers philosophical/ethical choices for its audiences to ponder after its shows.
For Wicked is very much, within all its action and finery, a contemplation on the nature of what creates wickedness, of the perception of wickedness. Is it born of circumstance, misunderstanding or simply innate?
This version, currently at Edmonton’s Jubilee Auditorium until Sunday July 20, actualizes every ounce of the potential within its script, score and lyrics.
The story starts at a point of imagination so powerful one can only bow down in acknowledgement of such a creative mind .
Suppose, postulates Wicked author Gregory Maguire, today a 60-year-old American professor as well as novelist; suppose there was a “back story” to L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s novel the Wonderful Wizard of Oz?
Suppose the squishing of the Wicked Witch of the East, which opens Baum’s novel, was a minor chapter in another story’s plot line also happening in the land of Oz?
Maguire’s story is a completely different thing to Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, in Man and Scarecrow, yet is beautifully pinned to it.
Wicked is about many of the same themes – valour, courage, loyalty – but adds the notion of the nature of evil (actually its less definitive cousin, wickedness) in this new Oz story created by Maguire about the long and complex relationship between the three witches: Glinda the good witch of the north, Elphaba, wicked witch of the west, and Elphaba’s sister Nessarose, wicked witch of the east. (In the original, the north and east witches have no names. “Elphaba” is clever acknowledgement of L. Frank Baum.)
Wicked isn’t a prequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – one doesn’t flow out of the other – but is a very different story. As if, for instance, another author besides J.K. Rowling had written a story of the stormy relationship between professors at Hogswarts, set within the Harry Potter world but only incidentally touching on Harry Potter and friends.
At an Oz boarding school as teen agers, Glinda is as Popular as the musical’s hit tune suggests, while Elphaba is shunned by her classmates and father because she was freakishly born green. Meanwhile, Elphaba’s younger sister Nessarose is born without the use of her legs, their mother dying during that birth. And again, Elphaba is somehow blamed.
As events unfold, the gleefully pompous, self-righteous, gorgeous Glinda and thick-skinned outcast Elphaba become close allies, but circumstances overwhelm friendship. As the wizard’s regime at Oz becomes more tyrannical, Elphaba discovers she is a powerful witch able to affect outcomes. She goes one way as an enemy of the regime, seen as wicked within the show, but clearly not so to the audience. Glinda, on the other hand, takes the easy route as suits her nature, becomes an apologist for the wizard’s wrongdoing to the animals of the kingdom. Of course, conflicting love interests occur and Nessarose has a pivotal secondary role to play – before she is squished.
It’s a complex, yet beautifully constructed plot, partially manipulated to intersect where necessary with the plot line of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. But in Wicked, Dorothy is just some kid who never shows up on stage, just a device used to further Wicked’s drama.
Wicked, now 11 years old as a Broadway musical, is a well-proven formula where all the moving parts supporting the plot have been perfected. The magical land of Oz inspires breath-taking sets, the plot creates great stunt scenes. The ensemble has wonderful songs and dancing. There’s great action, and then stillness.
Wicked is absolutely dependent on the two divas in the lead roles, on the interaction between the two. Kara Lindsay as Glinda and Laurel Harris as Elphaba in this show are magnificently up to the chore. They play their contrasting characters to the hilt, sing their hearts out, and have nailed the complex relationship between the two. Their duets are the highlights of the multitude of highlights in this show.
This is not a lesser touring show – it’s as much the real thing as the original Broadway and West End shows.
Rarely does a touring Broadway musical come through town offering so much – artistically, philosophically, so bedazzling, so intriguing. Wicked properly belongs up with Phantom of the Opera as a tour de force – albeit with sillier moments thanks to Glinda’s loveable blonde moments.
If you enjoy musical theatre, this one offers as much value for your entertainment dollar as you could possibly ask for.
Hicks Biz Communications : Commentary