Is it better to be tragically beautiful, or beautifully tragic?
Broadway Across Canada’s Wicked is based on Gregory Maguire’s best-selling 1995 novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, telling the tale of two unlikely school mates who during the course of their lives will come to understand why they were meant to meet.
Wicked is the untold story of the witches of Oz – two polar opposites. There’s Glinda (Kara Lindsay), the popular, self-absorbed blond, and Elphaba (Laurel Harris), shy but whip smart. I was reminded of seeing Shrek for the first time, with the latter’s emerald green skin.
The original musical premiered on Broadway, with a cast including Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda, Idina Menzel as Elphaba, and Joel Grey as the Wizard, receiving three Tony Award and six Drama Desk Awards (with a Grammy for the cast album).
The story begins in the Land of Oz, long before Dorothy arrives. Oz’s citizens are celebrating the death of the Wicked Witch of the West as Glinda, in a gorgeous gown, arrives in a bubble, a steel circular contraption lowered down on stage. As the town was repulsed by the witch, Glinda pleads with the Ozians to show empathy, and begins to flashback to the start of her meeting Elphaba (aka the Wicked Witch). The story is told through a series of flashbacks.
Elphaba’s been sent to university to look after her wheelchair-ridden sister Nessarose (Emily Behny), not of the green sort. Headmistress Madame Morrible decides to make Elphaba and Glinda roomies (the two have loathed one another from the moment they’d met).
Glinda sees a beauty makeover project in Elphaba; Elphaba couldn’t care less and would rather be left alone. Soon enough though, the two begin to get along, and Elphaba begins to feel slightly more comfortable with her looks.
The show gets underway revealing several story lines as well as crafty references to the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, making it easy for a first-timer to this musical version to understand the jokes (unless of course you’ve never seen the Wizard of Oz, and in that case, please view before attending!).
Fiyero (Matt Shingledecker) is the main love interest of both leading women, yet he only has eyes for one. We also begin to see the roles of Madame Morrible (Kathy Fitzgerald), Doctor Dillamond (John Hillner), and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Gene Weygandt) develop and build the storyline leading into the second act.
The ensemble work well together with the leads, making the work involved in mounting a huge blockbuster production such as this one appear effortless.
Both Laurel Harris and Kara Lindsay have beautiful voices, their opposing personalties and various quirks bouncing well off one another to highlight the story’s main themes of unlikely friendship, jealousy, empathy, and knowing right from wrong.
“It’s dreadful to have a house fall on you.” – Glinda, Good Witch of the North
The stage sets (Eugene Lee) are remarkable, costumes (Susan Hilferty) beautifully detailed (I was glad to have brought binoculars as outfits and shoes are worth checking up close!), lighting (Kenneth Posner) and sound (Tony Meola) all top-notch. A live orchestra led by conductor Jason Sherbundy includes three keyboardists, a guitarist, and drummer, settled into the pit below stage.
An enormous dragon flanks the stage on top, and along with the Wizard of Oz’s large head contraption, entertain to great effect (by Chic Silber). Flying monkeys, broomsticks, Scarecrow, Lion, Tin Man, the Emerald City of Oz, munchkins, it’s all here and for two hours, 45 minutes (with one intermission), you’ll enjoy the fun, romance-tinged show that’s the 11th longest-running Broadway show in history – and happens to be in its 11th year.
Produced by Marc Platt, Broadway Across Canada’s Wicked has all the elements of an entertaining evening for all ages. Wicked continues through June 29 at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre.