SCHENECTADY –“Wicked” is one of those Broadway musicals that lives up to its hype. It’s a big, flashy show that tells an intriguing and clever story. It’s doesn’t have a score filled with commercial hits, but there are several individuals numbers – like “Popular” and “Defying Gravity” that bore worm holes in your brain and will stay there for days.
And on the topic of “Defying Gravity,” the number that closes the first act, raises the hair on the back of your head. And, it’s not the only memorable production number in the show. “Dancing Through Life” is energetic fun, while the colorful “One Short Day’ introduces the audience to the magical world of Oz. “For Good” is moving and meaningful and “As Long As Your Mine” is touchingly romantic.
The show finds its warmth through the relationship and friendship of Glinda and Elphaba. They are total opposites. Elphaba has green skin, a contrary nature and is a social outcast. Glinda is beautiful, popular and vapid. How the rivals become friends and grow as allies provides the emotional core of the show.
“Wicked” has been on Broadway for almost 14 years and has been touring for about 12 years. It’s remarkable that the work still seems fresh and the cast so invested in their portrayals. This is the most solid and complete production of the three that have been at Proctors.
Jessica Vosk is a dynamic Elphaba. Her hints at emotional vulnerability makes her strength even more awesome. She a feisty personality who believes in friendship almost as much as she believes in herself.
Amanda Jane Cooper brightens the stage and every scene in which she appears. She is brilliant in finding the shallowness of a person and yet signals that underneath her vapid persona the woman is more than an empty vessel. It’s a funny and complex portrayal. Both women are great actors and wonderful singers. Indeed the entire cast is without blemish.
This story is about Oz before it was visited by Dorothy and reveals how the Lion, the Scarecrow and the Woodsman came to be created through Elphaba’s magic to help them survive political repression. It explains how the just girl with green skin got labeled the Wicked Witch of the West and the apathetic popular woman became known as Glinda the Good.
Because of today’s political climate the political undercurrents of the musical have a more powerful resonance. When Elphaba tells the Wizard he’s been lying to the people he replies, “Only verbally,” it still gets a laugh but it’s accompanied by a familiar chill. The effect magnifies when the Wizard excuses himself “Beside they were lies people wanted to hear.”
Themes of scapegoating, depriving segments of the population the right of speech and public surveillance show Oz was a fascist state. It not only makes Elphaba’s resistance appear brave, it makes her a righteous heroine.
“Wicked’s” political conscience does sometimes slow the second act making it appear labored at times, but the musical is so compelling the 2 hour and 45 minute running time seems a fair price to pay for a musical that has so much to offer.
“Wicked continues at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady through Sunday March March 12. For tickets and schedule information call 346-6204, or go to proctors.org.
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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