Popular musical brings Oz to the Opera House

by Beacon Staff • April 19, 2006

Few will mourn seeing Wicked.,"No one mourns the Wicked," sings the touring company of the latest Broadway blockbuster, currently playing at the Opera House. This song does not describe the title character of Stephen Schwartz's musical, but it does describe the show itself:

Few will mourn seeing Wicked.

It is easy to be spell-struck by Wicked. The songs are soaring, the costumes are colorful and the dance scenes are dizzying.

Adapted from Gregory Maguire's radical retelling of the life of the Wicked Witch of the West, the musical examines the woman behind the name, and there is quite a story to tell.

Elphaba, whose name was inspired by the initials of Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum, is first introduced to the audience at her birth, when her father rejects her due to the color of her skin, which is inexplicably green.

She returns as a young woman, attending the sorcery school Shiz University. Due to a misunderstanding, she is assigned to share a room with the most beautiful, popular girl at school, Glinda. The two girls are enemies at first sight, but soon develop a deep closeness that lasts throughout the years.

Elphaba is more than just a green girl. She possesses unusual powers that she does not know how to control.

She is also an activist who feels strongly about the mistreatment of anyone, something that is both a gift and a curse for her, and which gets her in trouble more often than not.

Wicked is an unusual combination-it is a story of intimate teenage friendships, but with larger and darker political undertones. The true success of the show comes from the relationship between the two women, acted out on a stage filled with massive props and dazzling special effects.

The script's lines include deliberate mispronunciations and invented words, but also statements of startling truth.

It is the relationship between Elphaba and Glinda, however, that truly drives the story and the leading ladies of this cast manage to pull it off with wit and sincerity. Elphaba, performed by Julia Murney, excels as the uncomfortable outcast and Kendra Kassebaum's Glinda balances the ability to be both superficial and on-the-spot with her cutely cloying declarations.

Elphaba and Glinda were created on Broadway by veterans Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, but Murney and Kassebaum are able to distinguish themselves from the original duo's Tony-nominated performances. Murney's Elphaba is more moody, more brooding, more anxious; it is easier to relate her to Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch of the West from the 1939 film.

While Murney's voice is strong, at times it overshadows her acting. She seems to be more focused on hitting the right notes then conveying the meaning of the song.

Kassebaum's frantically excited Glinda, who is constantly kicking, twirling or tapping her legs, is adorably endearing at first, but quickly reveals more depth.

As she tells Elphaba, "it's not about aptitude, it's the way you're viewed," during a makeover session in their dorm room, all the while skipping and twirling across the floor, it is easy to laugh at her antics, while the meaning of her words hits you a moment later.

The supporting cast of the show also shines. Sebastian Arcelus is tragically underused as Fiyero, the spoiled prince and love interest of both of the leads. Leading the company in "Dancing Through Life," he owns the stage as he struts and spins around it. Alma Cuervo and P.J. Benjamin are clearly confident as Madame Morrible and The Wizard, but Logan Lipton's Boq is a shade too eager to please.

The show itself is simply stunning, filled with special effects galore, and even suspending Murney mid-air while she sings her anthem of independence. Subtlety is not one of Wicked's strengths in terms of the visuals or in the messages of the show.

Wicked goes behind the scenes of Oz, deeper than the film's statement, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"

The Wizard is even more exposed here, and he is tied to actions of prejudice and violence in the country, including the silencing and imprisonment of talking animals that had been members of society.

He explains to Elphaba, "When I came here, there was discord and discontent. And what better way to bring people together than to

give them a common enemy?"

He attempts to justify his actions in the song, "Wonderful," describing the ambiguity of the word and how easy it is for people to lose themselves in labels. The show questions the labels of good and evil, and the true intentions behind good deeds. Which matters more, style or substance? The question is posed repeatedly during the show.

The parallels between this fantasyland and our own country are not difficult to notice.

Despite its fantastic appeal, Wicked is a surprisingly dark show. While audience members will leave the theater humming and smiling, more than just the melodies will stay with them.