The Wicked Witch of the West is one of the most iconic villains in both literature and film. But, what if we’ve all been fed a line about her evil? What if the official history was simply a lie? Discover the true story of the Wicked Witch of the West in Wicked which is currently playing at the Orpheum Theatre.
I’m definitely of two minds about this show. I was entertained. The show is beautifully sung and strongly acted. But the story lacks a certain punch. The idea is definitely intriguing, but Winnie Holzman’s script based off the novel by Gregory Maguire fails to hit a home run and has to settle for a double. The first act tends to drag a bit though the developing friendship between Elphaba (Wicked Witch) and Glinda helps to sell it due to the work of the leading actresses.
The story picks up considerable steam in the second act once Elphaba has been deemed the Wicked Witch and an enemy of Oz. The script introduces multiple storylines and even wraps them all up, but some storylines aren’t developed enough and are just bluntly ended. However, there is some considerable skill with the way the story weaves in the characters of The Wizard of Oz where it’s clear that that story isn’t a complete lie, but a version manipulated by the true powers in Oz.
Joe Mantello gets as much out of the script as is humanly possible. From a technical standpoint, the show is solid as a rock. The pace is on point. Cue pickups tight as a drum. The actors have been coached into strong performances and each has a well-developed character. Mantello has a real gift for duet scenes as some of the show’s strongest moments are when just two characters are interacting and they can be full of tension and pain or dripping with tenderness and sweetness.
Some strong supporting performances come from John Bolton who plays the Wizard. He’s more (or should I say less) than a weak man. He’s a power addict responsible for most of Oz’s problems. Jake Pedersen excels as Boq, a Munchkin doomed to a dire fate due to his fawning over Glinda and his angering of a powerful foe. Lisa Howard is downright sinister as Madame Morrible, the power behind the throne. Kimberly Immanuel has a wonderful arc as Nessarose, the crippled sister of Elphaba who seems sweet, but hides a vindictive nature that makes her worthy of her never revealed title of Wicked Witch of the East. Michael Genet is sympathetic as Dr. Dillamond, the last animal allowed to teach at the university and a tragic victim of the elite’s desperation to hold on to power.
There’s a lot under the surface of Jordan LItz’s Fiyero. Fiyero puts on a good front of being a lazy gadfly, but it hides a tortured unhappiness. Litz is wonderful as he comes off as a not overly intelligent jock until an act of kindness towards a lion cub starts to peel back his layers to reveal the honorable and heroic man lurking beneath the façade. Litz has a beautiful tenor and knows how to act through the numbers and can be delightfully humorous when he sings about “Dancing Through Life” or heartfelt and loving as he pledges love to Elphaba in “As Long As You’re Mine”.
Jennafer Newberry shines brightly as Glinda. Newberry does a remarkable job showing us the true Glinda. She isn’t good. She’s a rich, stuck-up, vapid airhead used to getting her own way with a bent for malapropisms. But it’s a joy to see how her friendship with Elphaba helps her to truly become a better person and to inspire her to overthrow the true wickedness in Oz. Newberry also has a stunning soprano which she can use to comedic effect evidenced by “Popular” where she tries to help Elphaba fit in or use to tug your heartstrings in “I’m Not That Girl” and “For Good”.
Lissa deGuzman is stunning as Elphaba. She is brilliant at portraying the outcast who hides her pain under the mantle of responsibility as she cares for her sister. It’s a treat to watch her slowly work her way out of her awkwardness until she claims her role as the Wicked Witch of the West (though not in the way you may think). deGuzman has a stunning lower soprano and she nails the show’s hallmark song “Defying Gravity” to the floor.
Evan Roider and his orchestra never miss a note in their performance. Susan Hilferty’s costumes recall the film version of the story with its fantastical clothes and characters. Chic Silber’s special effects add that crucial bit of magic to the show. Tony Meola’s sounds help bolster the show with sounds of magic and raging storms. Eugene Lee’s sets are very impressive with the ever present clock and gears and the homunculus used by the Wizard to seem all powerful. Kenneth Posner has a good use of lights especially when acts of magic are enacted. James Lynn Abbott’s choreography is solid, but lacks any huge moments.
In spite of the story not quite being all it could be, Wicked is definitely a pleasant evening of theatre with strong musical performances and splendid acting. It is also certain to enthrall the kids and the kids at heart.
Wicked runs at the Orpheum Theatre through May 15. Performances are Tues-Sat at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 2pm and Sundays at 1pm and 6:30pm. Tickets range from $43.50 to $188.50 and can be obtained at www.ticketomaha.com. The Orpheum Theatre is located at 409 S 16th St in Omaha, NE.