— Production poster
The dozens of Alice in Wonderlandish costumes are definitely wicked. The two lead characters and the women who play them are pretty wicked. The book by Winnie Holzman is somewhat wicked. But otherwise it’s really hard to see what all the fuss is about. Wicked the musical comes to town in a Broadway Across Canada tour that offers a whole lot of spectacle but not much else to explain why it has been one of the most successful shows of the decade.
This prequel to The Wizard of Oz revolves around the two characters who will become the good witch Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba. Glinda, played with an adorable little girl voice and manner by Natalie Daradich, is the narcissistic dumb blond (“life’s more painless for the brianless”) whom everyone loves. At school her life becomes entangled with that of Elphaba (Anne Brummel), the smart ugly girl—born with green skin, and certain powers, and assigned to care for her father’s favourite, her wheelchair-bound sister Nessa (Michelle London). A couple of love triangles develop—between Glinda, Nessa, and a boy named Boq (Zach Hanna); and between Glinda, Elphaba, and the dashing Fiyero (David Nathan Perlow). Elphaba tries to use her powers for good but is thwarted at every turn and made to seem... well, a witch. Eventually, she and Glinda end up in the Emerald City where they meet the Wizard (Don Amendolia) and we learn the rest of their biographies.
In so far as the central story is about a female odd-couple friendship, it’s interesting and sometimes even moving. Both characters have some dimension, their relationship is fairly complex, and Daradich and Brummell both can sing and act. The story itself is also fascinating in a fun way, if you know The Wizard of Oz. But there are a whole lot of red herrings in the story, involving talking animals and the Wizard’s fascistic tendencies, that don’t get developed or make a lot of sense. And the secondary characters—all the men, in fact, as well as Nessa and the Headmistress, Madame Morrible (Jody Gelb)—are badly underwritten and have little to do musically. The same goes for the large chorus, which hardly dances at all and rarely sings in any significant way. And Stephen Schwartz’s music is about as nondescript and unmemorable as any Broadway score I can recall.
What does stand out are Susan Hilferty’s magnificent costumes and the visual spectacle of Eugene Lee’s sets. There’s a lot of money up there on the stage but expensive eye candy alone does not a truly wicked musical make.