Theater review: A 'Wicked' good musical

03:06 PM, Apr 05, 2013

Oz' prequel 'Wicked' has heart, brains and courage in abundance. (Joan Marcus)/


Written By Marcia Morphy

If you go

What: Wicked
When: Through April 21.
Where: Auditorium Theatre, 885 E. Main St.
Cost: Tickets start at $37.50.
For tickets: (800) 745-3000 or ticketmaster.com.

Yes, my pretties. Every musical should have the heart, brains and courage of Wicked.

Now in its third return engagement at the Auditorium Theatre, this blockbuster winner of 35 major awards — including a Grammy and three Tonys — seems to be running a marathon. And all roads lead to Oz in this charming, exhilarating and bewitchingly fractured tale.

Based on Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel, Wicked is a prequel to Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz, taking place several years before a certain tornado whisked a young girl somewhere over the rainbow. Along the way, it solves the puzzle of how the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion came into being.

The story is based on the strange sisterhood between Elphaba (Jennifer DiNoia), the green-skinned Witch of the West, and the good witch Glinda (Hayley Podschun), who meet as college contemporaries and instantly loathe each other. Of course, Elphaba suffers from the tragic heartbreak of being born “different” and makes up for it with fiery activism and a strange gift for sorcery. Glinda is the perky prom queen used to getting her own way — but being a good girl, she takes “Elphie” under her wing and teaches her social etiquette, with hilarious results.

Romance blossoms when campus stud Fiyero (a powerful and well-cast David Nathan Perlow) takes an immediate liking to Glinda but then reconsiders his affections after meeting headstrong Elphie, who makes him “think.” Treacherous mayhem erupts when the two witches meet the Wonderful Wizard of Oz (a sentimental Walker Jones) in the Emerald City.

It’s hard to tell which witch is the wicked one, and also who shines brighter. DiNoia portrays the drab and understated Elphaba to a 5-star-rating. Her combination of heartfelt vulnerability and lungs of brass can easily cause a meltdown of emotions when she takes flight in “Defying Gravity.”

Her nemesis, as played by Podschun, is a giant bubble of warmth with a voice of an angel and comedic brilliance that leaves an indelible imprint. She could easily walk off with the entire show, all the way to Kansas and beyond.

There are also strong supporting roles by Michael Wartella as munchkin Boq, Jenny Fellner (in this performance) as Elphaba’s spoiled, crippled sister Nessarose, Jay Russell and his bleating portrayal as goat professor Doctor Dillamond, and Gina Ferrall as Madame Morrible, the power-hungry headmistress with a magical talent for controlling the weather.

Wicked’s social commentary is biting and sharp, illustrating themes of the darker side of the rainbow and a world of secret police and human-like animals threatened with exile. Yet the overall tone is one of laughter and humor. Take it from Elphaba, who chortles: “Well, we all can’t come and go by bubble,” or Glinda’s glib, “It seems the artichoke is steamed.”

If this show is about casting spells, it has done its magic. I’d follow the yellow brick road to see it again and again.