Alibi V.23 No.39 • Sept 25-Oct 1, 2014 

Theater News

Love That Green Skin You’re In

Wicked romps across the Popejoy stage

Elphaba
Elphaba (Emma Hunton) may be using her Manic Panic wrong.
Joan Marcus
With a technicolor design, musical hook and LOL-worthy dialogue, Wicked has been celebrated by pop culture—if not always critics—since it debuted on Broadway a decade ago with Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel in the starring roles. The story turns The Wizard of Oz inside out and upside down: “Good” becomes insufferable, “evil” happens to be misunderstood, and politicians fail to rise to every possible occasion. That makes Wicked a postmodern romp worthy of anyone who’s ever looked askance at their grade-school history lessons after reading some Howard Zinn.

Glinda
Glinda (Chandra lee Schwartz) doesn’t do subtle.
Joan Marcus
This incarnation of Oz reveals the Wicked Witch of the West’s schoolgirl friendship with Glinda the Good, detailing how their hot-and-cold relationship leads to the events so unjustly distorted in the famous story. The current touring production opened at Popejoy (203 Cornell NE) to a full and visibly thrilled house. Emma Hunton plays Elphaba, the green-skinned outcast with an extraordinary magical talent, while Chandra lee Schwartz threatens to steal the show as the intolerably twee, unrepentantly popular Galinda (who’ll later change her name in an act of conspicuous selflessness meant to impress a boy). I guffawed with the whole audience every time she squealed, flipped her hair and mispronounced a word. (My favorite, though, was her “Congratulotions” banner.)

Madame Morrible
Madame Morrible (Alison Fraser) and the Wizard (Tim Kazurinsky) make some nasty plans.
Joan Marcus
The land of Oz is plunged into upheaval as talking animals become personae non gratae. Elphaba’s love for her history teacher Dr. Dillamond, goatily embodied by Tom Flynn, keeps her from going along with the crowd. It’s a serviceable if not exactly subtle plot. (You can almost hear the refrains: When they came for the talking goats, I said nothing because I was not a goat …) What you shouldn’t expect from Wicked is an airtight plot. The ending, especially, defies both logic and logistics. (How did Elphaba—? Why exactly is Fiyero—? The Cowardly Lion because huh—? Never mind.) And the music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz contain just the kind of heavy-handed exposition that’s okay in a musical and not any other form of storytelling. Personally I found those elements clunky (though I’m sure plenty of superfans happily listen to the Grammy-winning original cast recording every night before bedtime). Also, critics sometimes cast Wicked as a story of female empowerment, but if that’s so, why does Madame Morrible (an exquisite Alison Fraser) meet her grim fate while the Wizard just flies back home?

fly
Monkeys aren’t the only things that can fly.
Original Broadway Company photo
What has to be one of the keys to Wicked’s ongoing popularity, though, is its ability to appeal to multiple senses. The sets designed by Eugene Lee are a dazzling amalgam of steampunk aesthetic, cartoonish exuberance and world-building eye candy—just check out that golden, mechanical bobblehead employed by the Wizard as his disguise. The single set element conveys everything both terrifying and ridiculous about him. Susan Hilferty’s gem-tone costumes, with their bustles, lacings, asymmetry and movement, dazzle over and over again. Despite clocking in at nearly three hours, Wicked consistently turns up fresh pleasures from moment to moment—whether you like sarcasm or sincerity, dancing denizens or flying monkeys, this is an over-the-top spectacle that’s well worth experiencing.

bobblehead
If you’re off to see the Wizard, watch out for his giant bobblehead.
Original Broadway Company photo

Wicked

Runs through Sunday, Oct. 5

Tuesdays through Thursdays 7:30pm; Fridays 8pm; Saturdays 2 and 8pm; Sundays 1 and 6:30pm
popejoypresents.com, 925-5858
Tickets: $57.50 to $150; in-person lottery for $25 orchestra tickets available 2.5 hours before each performance
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