Wicked, Book by Winnie Holtzman, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Directed by Joe Mantello. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Defying Gravity in a production of WICKED, now on stage at Proctors in Schenectady
"It seems the artichoke is steamed."
Amanda Jane Cooper as Glinda
Greed, compulsive behavior and the unGodly drive of ambition are the ruling forces in the musical, "Wicked" now playing at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady. This is the Second National Tour of the Broadway hit that brought composer Stephen Schwartz back to the Great White Way from the Disney Studios in Hollywood. It would almost seem possible that the song "Popular" was written by him in pre-celebration of this show's incredible success with audiences. But still it is that peculiar motivation that lets this prequel to "The Wizard of Oz" take on an intense life of its own.
This is the story of two school girls in Oz, the lovely, brainless, blonde Galinda and the green-skinned Elpheba, who are forced to room together, become buddies if not friends and find themselves in constant competition for everything. Both young women have a need to supercede the other one; both need to rise, to defy gravity, to be the one respected, loved, adored, worshipped and feared. Galinda torments men and Epheba frightens them. When a love triangle rears its not unusually ugly head, the two women find themselves in a fight to the finish.
And that's just the big little story at the center of this show. Don't forget the Witch Elpheba's sister, the falling house, the little girl from Kansas, the Wizard, and the assorted other characters from the more familiar musical based on the novel by L. Frank Baum which spawned the novel by Gregory Maguire that inspired this show. If that seems a mouthful, wait until you hear the rapid-fire lyrics. And you must pay very close attention to the final three scenes of the play where so much is revealed and explained that it's hard to get it all, but you must.
The production of this traveling show is a spectacular one. Copied from the New York original, the costumes by Susan Hilferty, sets by Eugene Lee, lighting by Kenneth Posner and sound by Tony Meola are as magical as anything produced by MGM studios in 1939. The quirky, jerky dances choreographed splendidly by Wayne Cilento help to create the magic place and people. The orchestrations adapted from William David Brohn's originals by Christopher Jahnke support the oddness of the subject matter.
What really makes this show work so well is the very talented company. Galinda is played with a curiously familiar Kristen Chenowith insensitivity by Amanda Jane Cooper. She manages to sound like her predecessor when she sings and look like her when she moves. It's a delicious reproduction top to bottom. As her rival, the future Wicked Witch of the West, in green-face makeup, is Jessica Vosk who manages to infuse her character with extraordinary empathy and still sing with all the might of the originator of the role, Idina Menzel.
In the role that Carole Shelley created, Madam Morrible (say it fast and you'll get it) is the wondrous Isabel Keating. She is so hateful she is loveable. And when it comes to those three goals mentioned above, Keating plays them all to the hilt for her own character. Each woman is so different that it really becomes an "anything you can do, you can do and I can still do better."
The men in their lives never dominate the stage but are well portrayed by Jeremy Woodard as the romantic hero, Fiyero, Andy Mientus as the inevitable dishcloth of a man, Boq, and Fred Applegate as the not so Wonderful Wizard of Oz. That each actor has his moment is a good thing, but that each character is of least interest in the story is not. Still, they provide the supportive impetus that the women require, so that's all right in the end.
There are three really wonderful songs in this show, "Popular," "I'm Not That Girl," and "Defying Gravity." The rest of the score is there to move the show along and it does the job nicely. But it is those three moments that give both Cooper and Vosk their most memorable highpoints in the performance.
There is a slick and measured sense to this production that cries out for a punch in the gut to make it a somehow more personal experience. But for the show business lover who wants a good musical to end the day, this show is just the thing. The production on the Proctors Stage fills the theater with everything required, but without that extra bit of heart that also gives a stage work that something wonderful.
Isabel Keating as Madam Morrible
Jessica Vosk as Elpheba
Wicked plays at Proctors, 432 State Street, Schenectady, NY through March 12. For information and tickets call 518-346-6204 or go to tickets.proctors.org.