The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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‘Wicked’ mystifies with riveting story and scenery

I put off seeing “Wicked,” the musical which has been playing at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood for at least two years, despite rave reviews and my love of big production musicals.

My reluctance was not just because I am thoroughly broke, but also because the best-selling novel on which the show is based was in my opinion tedious and depressing. Having yawned through the equally highly-acclaimed “Les Miserables” not long ago, it seemed best to wait for the kind of brighter, shinier show that is more to my liking before plunking down a king’s ransom for tickets.

“Wicked” is bright, shiny and worth every penny of the aforesaid king’s ransom.

From the beginning of the evening when my husband and I bravely set off over the hill, good omens abounded: Traffic flowed smoothly and a free parking space appeared just around the block from the theater. Even better, seated in front of me was a reasonably-sized person – unlike a previous show during which I spent the entire evening trying to see around an Amazonian, beehive-hairdo-wearing woman.

The only concern was that several of the main parts were being played that night by understudies.

That worry vanished when the huge metallic dragon above the stage roared to life, eyes flashing and wings flapping. After a brief intro scene that could just as easily have been left out, the show returns to full throttle when emerald-green Elphaba and the beautiful Galinda (no misspelling here?that’s how she was originally named before changing her name to Glinda) meet for the first time. Dancing, singing, pathos and comedy ensue, with intermission coming much too quickly.

Quick plot summary: the musical tells the back story of the witches from the Wizard of Oz, who, it turns out, shared a room at university.

Good witch Megan Hilty is an amazing comedic performer with superb timing, excellent body language and a decent singing voice. She had the audience roaring during one of her first numbers (Toss, Toss) and kept us enthralled throughout.

Wicked witch understudy Teal Wicks was perfectly cast with her angular build and excellent voice, really selling the uncomfortable-in-her-own skin persona.

Veteran performer Joanne Worley (Laugh-In, Herbie the Love Bug and several Love Boat episodes come to mind), with her over-the-top makeup and costume, was just perfect as Horrible Morrible.

Speaking of costumes, the outfits of every cast member, from the flying monkeys to every one of the supporting cast were spot on. The rich fabrics, crazy hats and hairdos, huge hoop dresses and even the shoes created by Susan Hilferty were perfectly Ozian.

My initial concern about whether such a dark and tedious novel could be turned into an enjoyable musical was completely allayed. Writer Winnie Holzman received a much-deserved Tony nomination for her adaptation of the novel. Sure, certain liberties were taken with some of the characters and many sub-plots were done away with, but the changes were quite an improvement, distilling the 400-page book to get at the true essence of the story.

The only disappointing thing about the show was that the lyrics and music (Stephen Schwartz) are completely forgettable. This is the only Broadway-caliber musical I have ever seen that left me with absolutely no interest in buying the soundtrack. Luckily everything else more than made up for this weakness.

The sets were uncomplicated and well done (scenic designer Eugene Lee won a Tony for the Broadway version), but award-winning lighting designer Kenneth Posner and the Pantages lighting crew deserve the bulk of the credit for evoking a wide variety of settings, from a boarding school to the Emerald City to Elphaba’s hideaways. The scene where Elphie first displays her full witchly powers was a real jaw-dropper.

I highly recommend the show for anyone from tweenagers up. The inherent messages about discrimination, defying stereotypes and pursuing justice might actually inspire younger audience members while more cynical older folks may also be reminded of some ideals they may have given up on.

An important point before you go is that having a rudimentary knowledge of the “Wizard of Oz” is helpful in order to follow some of the more subtle plot points. If you’ve never seen that movie, rent it before going to this show.

Wicked is playing at the Pantages through July 6, 2008. Enterprising theater-goers can enter a lottery most nights for good, inexpensive seats (see for details.)

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