Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wicked Conjures up a Magical Tale

A musical doesn't need a great score to connect deeply with audiences, but a good story is essential, and Wicked, which opened this week at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, flies high on that firm foundation.
With songs and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Winnie Holzman, the musical is based on the best-selling novel set in the same Land of Oz Dorothy and Toto visit and tells the early life of the witches of Oz: Glinda and Elphaba. They meet in college, where Glinda is madly popular and Elphaba is, well, green. By a misunderstanding, they wind up roommates and, after an initial period of mutual loathing, begin to learn something about each other. Their lives continue to intersect through a shared love, entry into the Emerald City and interaction with the Wizard himself. Eventually, their choices and convictions take them on widely different paths toward their iconic destinies. They are to become the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch. Watching their journey unfold makes for a spellbinding musical.

The first act is a prequel to the Wizard of Oz which we all know and love. The second act is a parallel narrative to that same world. The story of these two ladies is worth sitting through the almost three hour production, dotted with several memorable songs, which gives us tunes we’ll be humming around the house: “Popular”, sung with comedic prowess by Natalie Daradich as Glinda (Her lessons in popularity unfortunately reminded me of my blonde past, where hair flipping was as much a part of my college ensemble as penny loafers and madras shorts). Daradich gives a solid performance as Glinda, transforming from giddy school girl to a social media leader of Oz, who carries the weight of the green world’s seedy political secrets on her shoulders.

Anne Brummel, takes the audience on her journey of embracing her inner wickedness with an actor’s confidence intertwined with her character’s goodness, allowing the audience to empathize with the unusual heroine, Elphaba. Brummel’s singing is competent and her acting is what truly gives Wicked its wings.

Please note, Wicked is a dark musical, with lighting and set design emphasizing the ominous undercurrent of the show’s not so subtle socio-political commentary on the nature of good and evil. Oz is not a happy place, even though Glinda tries to convince herself and the citizens that they couldn’t be happier in Daradich’s sensitive rendition of “Thank Goodness”.

David Nathan Perlow is a smooth and likeable Fiyero, with silky strong vocals that could melt any witch’s heart. His boyish take on “Dancing Through Life” is charming, and he becomes a full fledged leading man in Act II as Fiyero matures into a man who finally knows what (and who) he wants.

Kids may not get the complexities of the plot, but they’ll love the spectacle. Set designer Eugene Lee brings Oz to life. A menacing iron dragon looms over the stage, with its claws open, and wings outstretched. When its eyes light up, and smoke billows from it, the audience of all ages is thrust into the world of Oz. A bubble brings Glinda to Munchkin Land, and then transforms into a giant pendulum. In “Defying Gravity,” as Elphaba ascends, it magically appears as though she is flying. And even though the audience knows that the Wizard’s mechanical head is only used to intimidate people, it is no less impressive.
There are some flaws in this wildly popular musical. The score is weak in multiple areas, and critics can nitpic if that’s their bag, but I’d rather celebrate the beauty Wicked has brought to American theatre. This musical truly does defy gravity.
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Tickets to see WICKED are available now with a Broadway Series custom package. Single ticket prices start at $38.75. Tickets can be purchased online at, by calling (714) 556-2787 and at the Box Office at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa. For inquiries about group ticket discounts, call the Group Services office at (714) 755-0236.

A day-of-performance lottery for a limited number of orchestra seats will be held daily for WICKED, which will be performing from March 9 – April 3 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Each day, 2½ hours prior to show time people who present themselves at the Segerstrom Center Box Office will have their names placed in a lottery drum and then 30 minutes later, names will be drawn for a limited number of orchestra seats at $25 each, cash only. This lottery is available only in-person at the Box Office, with a limit of two tickets per person.

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