Friday, June 23, 2006

Wicked (Play House Square Center)

Wonderful ‘WICKED’ wows audience at the State Theatre

In a great injustice, ‘WICKED’ was not selected as the best musical in the 2004 Tony Awards competition. The recognition went to ‘AVENUE Q,’ an X-rated puppet show. As evidenced by the screaming, standing ovations the touring production of ‘WICKED,’ now on stage at Playhouse Square’s State Theatre is receiving, and you’ll know the audience’s feelings about what should have been the prize winner.

The show has everything to make for a hit! Great music, fine performances, creative staging, and a delightful yet philosophical story line with an important message which includes comments which can be applied to the Bush administration’s diminishing of the population’s personal rights and what happens when a small group of zealots determines what is “best for everyone.”

‘WICKED,’ which is the “behind the story” tale of two young women, Glinda and Elphaba in the ‘WIZARD OF OZ’ story. You know them better as the good and the wicked witches.

Think you know who is really the good and who is the wicked witch? Are you aware of how the tin woodsman came to be? How about the cowardly lion or the scarecrow? Think that the wicked witch really was melted by a bucket of water? All of these questions are answered in the Stephen Schwartz, Winnie Holzman musical which is based on the novel by Gregory Maguire.

The show’s music, by award winner Stephen Schwartz, known for ‘PIPPIN,’ ‘THE MAGIC SHOW,’ and ‘GODSPELL,’ is typical Schwartz. There are lovely ballads (“I’m Not That Girl”), delightful ditties (“Popular” and “Wonderful”), large scale production (“Dancing Through Life” and “March of the Witch Hunters”), and light rock (“As Long As You’re Mine”).

Touring productions can be of questionable levels. Worry not if you are lucky enough to have tickets for the three-week sold out run of the show. This is Broadway at its very best! The sets are amazing. They include a dragon whose wingspan is the same as a Cessna 172. There is enough electrical current on stage, according to the show’s press release, to supply twelve houses with power. Monkeys fly, Glenda descends in a magical bubble, large gears grind, 250 pounds of dry ice produce the haze and magical poofs, bubble machines spray rainbows and 175,000 pounds of scenery cover the stage. The costuming is magical. The musical sound is good. But, most importantly, the show is well directed and superbly performed.

Julie Murney, made up in green makeup throughout the show, gives a lustrous performance as Elphaba, generally known as the Bad Witch. Bad, as we find out, she isn’t. Her voice is glorious, her character development clear. She radiates.

Kendra Kassebaum as Glinda, the blond, air-headed Good Witch, is also superb. She glows on stage. Murney and Kassebaum blend beautifully in several songs.

Kirk McDonald, makes for a charming Boq, the munchkin. K. Todd Freeman (Doctor Dillamond) is appealing as the goat who loses his human voice. Sebastian Arcelus has a wonderful singing voice and effectively develops the role of Fiyero, the playboy whose goodness shines through. PJ Benjamin is fine as the Wizard, as is Alma Cuervo as the evil Madame Morrible.

The show has a strong Cleveland connection. Matthew Rego, Michael Rego and Hank Unger are ARACA Group, one of the shows producers. The young trio, who are from the Western Cleveland suburbs, besides producing ‘WICKED’ have been represented on Broadway by ‘NIGHT, MOTHER,’ ‘THE GOOD BODY,’ ‘URINETOWN THE MUSICAL,’ ‘FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE’ and ‘MATCH.’ Their off-Broadway shows have been: ‘DEBBIE DOES DALLAS,’ ‘THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES,’ ‘THE LARAMIE PROJECT’ and ‘SKYSCRAPER.’ Forthcoming are the film versions of ‘URINETOWN’ and “DEBBIE DOES DALLAS.’