(Please be advised that this review contains plot spoilers.)
What surprises me the most about my return visit to Wicked after three plus years is that I found the piece to be much more satisfying than my first time. I think it is most likely because in the intervening time, I have gotten much more familiar with the score, and having seen and made peace with what made it to the stage, I could relax and enjoy and take in everything this huge musical has to offer. That liberation, free from trying to figure it out, think about what it means and zeroing in on its flaws, makes the whole Oz experience much more fun and emotional. In short, familiarity for me strips away much of the critic in me and allows me to just see the show with an "it is what it is" frame of mind, rather than a "it could have been so much more" disappointment.
Which brings me to what pleases me most about my return visit to the Gershwin Theatre. I am thrilled at just how remarkably well the whole thing has held up, particularly for a crowd-pleaser that is entering its eighth season on Broadway next month. Many a show - Cats and Les Miserables come readily to mind - in that same position in the past got to the point where it was a pale imitation of the original. Not the case with Wicked; no, this show is as crisp, fresh and exciting as it was in its opening days. And all of that has as much to do with the content and staging as any of the current performances.
Winnie Holzman's book continues to be problematic for me, though. There are more holes in the plot than a slice of Swiss cheese. It crams many themes into too slight a script, while major plot points are glossed over and run through; I am sure there are many things the audience misses or happen so fast that they have no idea they happened. Do people realize that Morrible causes the tornado that kills the Wicked Witch of the East? Or that Elphaba doesn't really melt in water, as evidenced by the fact that she stands for several minutes in a rain storm? There are, to be fair, a lot of poignant moments, sharp character observations and plenty of witty moments in the script, and it must have felt impossible to pare down the source material - the very dense and literary Wicked by Gregory Maguire.
A long time Dr. Dillamond, this was not my first time seeing Timothy Britten Parker in the role, but he has created an exceptionally well-rounded character, especially considering the few lines and part of a song that he gets to sing. His is a small, but pivotal role, and he plays it well, evoking indignation and sympathy from both Elphaba and the audience. And he eats a large piece of paper (he is a goat, after all) without water and still manages to sing! Not bad! Another small but pivotal role is that of Munchkin, Boq. To be completely honest, I've seen a wide range of Boqs, from maddeningly annoying to dull as beige, and so it is wonderful to report that Alex Brightman does a pretty remarkable job at acting star-struck and growing up into a rage and bitterness without annoying the hell out of me. He is perky and cute as a Munchkin should be, but as his character grows, so does the actor who seems to mature into a man before our eyes. Interestingly, he has a ton of charisma, and one finds oneself paying more attention to him than one expects to, and that is a good thing.
P.J. Benjamin as the Wizard of Oz, gives a very intelligent performance, one that exudes a genuine fatherly vibe, all while making his darker side and manipulations just as believable. He actually sings his songs, too, which is a nice change from the talk-singing of most of his predecessors. His partner in crime, Madame Morrible, is now played by the superb Kathy Fitzgerald, whose charm, natural wit and almost motherly bearing is fun, which makes her evil transformation all the more delicious. She is downright, um, wicked, in act two and I think she may just be the best of all the Madame Morribles I've seen.
Each time I see it, I appreciate Wicked more. And as it currently stands at the Gershwin, it more than earns its popularity and reputation as a crowd-pleaser and Broadway spectacle.
(Photos by Joan Marcus)
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