June 26, 2008

Wowed By ‘Wicked’


"The Wizard of Oz" always appeared so clear. A girl, with a pair of shoes and some new friends, defeats an evil witch. But what if there was something more going on behind the scenes of that beloved 1939 classic?

"Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz" sets out to prove just that. Based on the best-selling novel by Gregory Maguire, the Tony Award-winning musical about an unlikely friendship that began long before Dorothy dropped in is on stage at Shea's Performing Arts Center through July 13.

As "Wicked" takes place in a different Oz than we're used to, it's fitting that a map of Oz acted as the show's curtain, complete with a glowing Emerald City.

Aside from the basic storyline and the map, references to the intricate novel are few and far between. Fans of the novel should be warned that the musical differs greatly from the book.

An acrobatic band of flying monkeys, who somehow achieve the unthinkable feat of looking creepier than their film counterparts, lead the audience to a celebration over the death of the Wicked Witch of the West and an impromptu news conference with the iconic Glinda the Good (Katie Rose Clarke).

The show unfolds from a question posed to Glinda which forces her to recount the life of Elphaba (Carmen Cusack), the Wicked Witch of the West, from her odd birth, to her school days, when the two became friends, and her ultimate downfall.

Act One features many funny and feel-good songs that build the witches' friendship such as "Popular" and "One Short Day in the Emerald City," while unearthing the underlying problems in Oz.

"Wicked" delivers on its promise in Act Two to showcase the true Oz, one of political anarchy and extravagant lies. The most surprising aspect of this musical are the political undertones found in the plight of Oz citizens, which frequently mirror intolerance and dictatorship found in our own world. While the show always remains witty and sentimental, it also warns against always taking what you're told as truth and trusting your leaders without question.

Even in the most serious of scenes, the cast of engaging and oftentimes familiar characters insert humor with numerous references to the original "Wizard of Oz." Many blanks in the "Oz" storyline are filled in and expanded on, to the delight of the audience. The origins of the ruby slippers, the Tin Man, and even those flying monkeys are revealed to form an interconnected patchwork that directs the audience to a surprising and satisfying ending.

The star of the show is really the friendship between opposites: Glinda, the beautiful and clueless popular girl and Elphaba, the misunderstood green outcast.

Clarke and Cusack deserve a great amount of credit. With the popularity of "Wicked," most of their audiences are probably familiar with the original Broadway cast, and trying to fill the ruby slippers of Broadway darlings Kristen Chenoweth and Idina Menzel is no easy feat. However, both actresses bring their own magic to the roles.

Clarke's superb airhead slapstick comedy brought laughter to every scene she was in and produced an even greater poignancy to her self-transformation later in the show. Cusack created her own interpretation of Elphaba's character that allowed the audience to become bewitched by this odd heroine. Even more impressive were her powerhouse vocals during the Act One conclusion, "Defying Gravity," and Act Two's defining moment of desperation, "No Good Deed."

Beautifully bizarre and intricate costumes complemented the scenery comprised of a large mechanical dragon, a few large stage pieces and a digital backdrop. The show's lighting and special effects allowed the audience to believe in the magic they saw before them.

Carlene Miller is a sophomore at Alden.

"Wicked" tickets are $34.50 to $72.50. For a shot at a daily raffle for a limited number of tickets at $25 each, arrive at 650 Main St. two and a half hours before show time. Names will be drawn 30 minutes later with a limit of two tickets per person. www.sheas.org.

Originally published by NeXt Correspondent.

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