Saturday, February 09, 2008


Wonderful ‘WICKED’ wows but is almost drowned out by orchestra

‘WICKED,’ that wonderful, often wacky Broadway smash hit is back at the State Theatre. The touring company went through town in June of 2006 and played to sold out audiences. This version should also pack the place.

One of the fears of seeing a retreaded tour is that it will be a wattered down version. Do not be concerned. This is a full-blown, Broadway level production with impressive sets and a professional cast that wowed the audience. Wowed, in spite of the fact that during the first act on opening night, the orchestra drowned out composer Steven Schwartz’s oft-clever words. The sound techie must have been on the rebound from a rock concert and didn’t realize that, in theatre musicals, the words of the performers must be heard. Someone must have gotten to him during intermission, because the second act was under decibel control.

The show has everything to make for a hit! Great music and lyrics, creative staging, and a delightful yet philosophical story line with a message which includes comments which could be applied to the Bush administration’s diminishing of personal rights, and what happens when a small group of zealots determines what is “best for everyone,” and tells lies to get their way.

‘WICKED,’ 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.

The script also reveals “truths” about Oz. Do you know how Dorothy got the red slippers? Are you aware of how the tin woodsman, the cowardly lion or the scarecrow came to be? 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 a novel by Gregory Maguire.

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 appears and disappears in a magical bubble, large gears grind, bubble machines spray rainbows and 175,000 pounds of scenery cover the stage.

Carmen Cusack, slathered in green makeup, gives a lustrous performance as Elphaba, generally known as the “Bad Witch.” Bad, as we find out, she isn’t.

Katie Rose Clarke as Glinda, the blond, air-headed “Good Witch,” is also wonderful. She glows on stage. Cliffton Hall, he of pumped up body and an Elvis-hairdo, has a nice singing voice and effectively develops the role of Fiyero, the playboy whose goodness shines through.

Canton’s Lee Wilkof disappoints as the Wizard. He just doesn’t have the pixie-yet-evil quality of Clevelander Joel Gray, who was in the Broadway production. Alma Cuervo starts fine, but loses her characterization as the evil Madame Morrible, the brains behind the evil goings on (think Dick Chaney in drag).

The show has a strong Cleveland connection. Matthew Rego, Michael Rego and Hank Unger are the ARACA Group, one of the shows producers.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘WICKED’ is wonderful and worth seeing. If you missed it the first time around, go! If you saw it before, go!