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Theater Review: From the Flies to the Pit ‘Wicked’ Tour Gives Its All

Wicked - Emerald City 5Wicked is one of the most popular (sing it) musicals of all time. Running since 2003, and previously here on tour in 2009 and 2011, the show’s also won three Tonys and six Drama Desk Awards. With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Pippin) and a book by Winnie Holzman (My So-Called Life), this Emerald City Tour is directed by Joe Mantello (I’ll Eat You Last, 9 to 5 the Musical, The Vagina Monologues).

I’m not going to tell you the story of Wicked, which is based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West”. I won’t say that Wicked is the best musical I’ve ever seen, but it is one heck of a show, presented with great energy and emotion. Songs like “No One Mourns the Wicked” and “March of the Witch Hunters” really put the orchestra and ensemble through their paces, coming off a hair too bombastic in the end. Other, more lyrical and stirring songs like “What Is This Feeling,” “Wonderful” and “Defying Gravity” fall only just short of sublime, though performed majestically. And I won’t say it lives up to the hype: There’s a lot of that surrounding this one – Cats level hype – and it would be hard for the world’s greatest cast to meet that mark.

What I will say is that Wicked is a coming-of-age tale that juxtaposes the experience of need and want with that of the silver spoon. I’m happy to say that the show, like the book before it, does a great job of filling in the holes in L. Frank Baum’s famed “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” story. It gives us the witches’ motivations and backgrounds, providing depth and character to what are otherwise mere symbols.

Wicked - Emerald City 2And that’s just where Wicked shines: Less faerie tale and more personal drama, the musical is a raucous celebration of individuality and ethics, reminding us that no victory is won without sacrifice.

Wicked is beautiful and engaging, evoking the world of Oz in a new way that might very well please creator Baum, but all that hype had me expecting even more depth. The subtext of Wicked seems to say, “Good, bad, or somewhere in between, we never win unless we do.”

Which was more than a little disappointing – This reviewer expected a real feminist doctrine, which isn’t quite there. While Glenda toes the party line, her traditional woman’s outlook overcomes a more personal morality. Elphaba, by contrast, is stand-up and take-charge, and though the two become friends for a time, the moral that personal needs (like love and truth) outweigh any relationship is stronger than themes of hope and sacrifice. That’s why Elphaba’s sister, Nessarose (Jenny Florkowski) is more of a set-piece than a character, providing a convenient plot point and little else.

Wicked - Emerald City 3Still, shadows of meaning and purpose lurk amid the personal drama. They illustrate the importance of seeking one’s own path, which is so often called wicked by those that do not understand.

Whatever hype Wicked fails to live up to doesn’t lie with the performers. Brilliant, effervescent song and dance numbers are interposed with book chapters that are both touching and reasonably insightful. From chorus number to solo, from dance to drama, this is one touring production that gives its all, right down to the triangle player in the orchestra pit.

Featuring Gina Beck (Wicked West End, Les Miserables) as Glinda, the “good witch”; Alison Luff (Ghost the Musical, Mamma Mia!) as Elphaba, the “wicked witch”; Nick Adams (Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Chicago) as love interest Fiyero; and Tim Kazurinksy (Police Academy, Saturday Night Live) as The Wizard, this tour company shines with talent. Lead actors and ensemble alike give their all to live up to and surpass the story that inspired it all.

Wicked - Emerald City 4Beck’s vocal strength and range are well-applied to the tittering witch she portrays, while Luff offers a palette of pain and righteousness to rival the Masters. Together they execute a teen rivalry with passion and brilliant comedy, playing together like the best of adversaries.

Adams, in spite of having arms like 50mm atomic cannons, portrays a clever, hopeful role while dancing like a ballerina. And though Kazurinksy lacks top-of-the-line singing skills, he makes a capable Wizard.

Upon a remarkable steampunk set of steel towers and spinning gears designed by Eugene Lee the choreography of James Lynn Abbot is sometimes loose where the ensemble is concerned, but spot on for the leads, offering tremendous energy and some excellent physical comedy. Costuming by Susan Hilferty is exquisite, from Elphaba’s simple frocks to Glinda’s fine gowns. Special effects from Wicked’s team of designers really wow, surpassing expectation and avoiding cliché, and special kudos to Lighting Designer Kenneth Posner for creating a brilliant array of effects that really make Wicked shine.

Wicked - Emerald City 1Wicked continues through April 20 in Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Andrew Jackson Hall (505 Deaderick St.). Day-of-performance lotteries for a limited number of orchestra seats will be held for the show: Two and one-half hours prior to each performance, people who present themselves at the TPAC Box Office will have their names placed in a lottery drum. Thirty minutes later, names will be drawn for a limited number of orchestra seats at $25 each, cash only. This lottery is available only in person at the box office, with a limit of two tickets per person. Lottery participants must have a valid photo ID when submitting their entry form and, if chosen, when purchasing tickets. (Tickets are on sale at tpac.org, by phone at (615) 782-4040, and at the TPAC Box Office, 505 Deaderick Street, in downtown Nashville. For group tickets, call (615) 782-4060.) For a full schedule of performance times, visit tpac.org. For more on the show visit wickedthemusical.com.

 

*Photos by Joan Marcus courtesy Wicked and TPAC.

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About Logan L. Masterson

Logan L. Masterson is a longtime Nashville resident and arts lover. He has covered the Nashville theater scene for The Examiner since 2009, and has reviewed films, fiction, and other media for Fantasy Magazine, Themestream, and his own website. He is a design contributor to the annual Killer Nashville writers’ conference, and was recently appointed Literary Editor for Digital Fabber Magazine. Logan is also a published poet and aspiring author.