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Theater Review: ...Wicked... Awesome

Original Twist on Classic Story Delights Audience With Comedy and Depth

By Brian Chase


Broadway in Boston Series

The Opera House

April 12 – May 14, 2006

I’ll save you ten minutes and say this right off the bat: go see “Wicked.” It is an excellent musical with clever lyrics, great melodies, and more interesting themes than you can shake ruby red slippers at.

Now, for those of you interested in the details, “Wicked” is a musical based on the book of the same name by Gregory Maguire, which is itself a re-imagining of the famous book and movie “The Wizard of Oz.” “Wicked’s” twist on the classic tale tells the story from the point of view of the Wicked Witch, Elphaba, and centers on her relationship with Glinda, the Good Witch. The progression of the two from enemies to friends to something in between is the foundation of the plot, and the most moving and emotional theme in the musical.

This is not a one-note work (pardon the pun). Winnie Holzman, who adapted the musical from the book, takes several interesting topics: governmental lies, manipulation of the populace via the press, demonization of those who are different, herd mentality of the common man, love, hate, and some great school “pick on the nerd” examples I bet many MIT students will empathize with. This musical engaged my mind the entire way through without becoming boring or preachy.

“Wicked” is not an entirely serious musical either. There is some engaging wordplay in the first act, along with some great physical comedy from Glinda. In the second act, the show plays on its famous movie forbearer for laughs in darker spots. Though that wasn’t very creative, it still elicits a chuckle.

The music is extremely well-written, from both the lyrical and musical perspectives. The melodies are by turns catchy, inspiring, and emotionally affecting — the exceptional songs like “Defying Gravity” are still running through my head. However, the chords of the musical are fairly spare — if you are a fan of lush orchestration, you won’t find it here. I didn’t mind, though, because the harmonies included are great. The best parts of the music, though, are the lyrics, because composer-lyricist Stephen Swartz is not afraid of using a thesaurus. When you can work words like dialysis, clandestinely, and ambiguities into your rhyme schemes clean and purposefully, you have accomplished something special. I have never heard lyrics as intelligent as these, which were still fun and conveyed the emotion and story of the song.

Though I didn’t pay particular attention to the dancing and technical aspects, they certainly added to the experience. The costume pieces other than the usual story-driven parts (black pointy hat, ruby red shoes, etc.) include funky old dress clothes — think Dickens on a drug trip. They emphasize the quirkiness of Oz well, and the animal costumes work well, too. The actors who played the flying monkeys showed strong technique, scene transitions were mostly smooth, and effects (especially the movable metal head the Wizard uses to scare his visitors) were impressive. The dancing, though not spectacular and used sparingly, emphasized and improved a few numbers.

Julia Murney, who plays Elphaba, does an absolutely fantastic job, and the rest of the cast is good as well. The show is sold out, but if you are willing to wake up early you may be able to get some cancellation tickets, and it would be worth the extra effort.