WICKEDMusic and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Winnie Holzman
Original Novel written by Gregory Maguire
Dallas Summer Musicals
Directed by Joe Mantello
Musical Staging – Wayne Cilento
Scenic Designer – Eugene Lee
Costume Designer – Susan Hilfrety
Lighting Designer – Kenneth Posner
Sound Designer – Tony Meola
Projection Designer – Elaine J. McCarthy
Hair and Wig Designer – Tom Watson
Music Supervision – Stephen Oremus
Orchestrations – William David Brohn
Special Effects – Chic Silber
Technical Supervisor – Jake Bell
Music Arrangements – Alex Lacamoire & Stephen Oremus
Music Director – Evan Roider
Associate Director – Lisa Leguillou
Dance Arrangements -- Corinne McFadden Herrera
Casting – The Telsey Office
Production Stage Manager – David O’Brien
Elphaba – Talia Suskauer
Glinda – Allison Bailey
Madame Morrible – Sharon Sachs
The Wizard – Cleavant Derricks
Doctor Dillamond -- Clifton Davis
Nessarose – Amanda Fallon Smith
Fiyero – Curt Hansen
Boq – DJ Plunkett
Chistery – Travante S. Baker
Witch’s Father -- Wayne Schroder
Witch’s Mother – Marina Lazzaretto
Midwife – Megan Loomis
Ozian Official – Wayne Schroder
Ensemble – Nick Burrage. Jordan Casanova, Matt Densky, Marie Eife, Ryan Patrick Farrell, Sara Gonzales, Marina Lazzaretto, Jordan Litz, Megan Loomis, Hayden Milanes, Jennafer Newberry, Alicia Newcom, Jackie Raye, Rebecca Gans Reavis, Andy Richardson, Anthony Sagaria, Justin Wirick
Reviewed Performance: 8/5/2021
Reviewed by Ann Saucer, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Before the curtain rises, the fantastical set design already impresses. The ferocious steely Time Dragon sits atop the Music Hall stage, his red eyes aglow. The stage curtain features a sepia toned map of the Land of Oz. The Emerald City gleams in the center, surrounded by Winkie Country to the West, the Badlands to the South, Munchkin Land to the East, and Gillikin Country to the North.
Just about every fiction bookworm has loved an unreliable narrator or two. Wicked inverts the genre by telling a famous story from the perspective of the “wicked” antagonist. For those of us who remember the original story, Wicked’s reimagining from the opposite perspective is a source of hilarity and intrigue. Audience members familiar with the 1939 Wizard of Oz film, based on the 1900 novel by L. Frank Baum, will find that it is their own understanding and emotional responses to the original story that are unreliable. Instead of a play within a play, there is a play outside of the play. Nonetheless, the drama of Wicked the musical stands on its own, sufficiently fast-paced and entertaining to beguile children who did not fall in love with Judy Garland every year on television.
The flying monkeys—you know you love them—appropriately kick off the action with a raucous appearance. The flying monkey scenes in the 1939 film were considered a marvel of special effects at the time. In Wicked they stun, awash in dramatic red lighting and ultimately appearing from top to bottom of the soaring Music Hall stage. Here and elsewhere, the choreography and skilled execution is fantastic.
And who can forget the very blond, very soprano Glinda the Good Witch (Allison Bailey)? She “travels by bubble,” descending dramatically from the sky. From her very first lines, the adorable Bailey earns laughs: “It’s good to see me, isn’t it? No need to respond. It’s a rhetorical question.”
A core genius of Wicked’s retelling is the reimaging of the Good Witch. Glinda from the film is a fluff-bedecked apparition, seemingly borrowed from the Opera, whose lie of omission (Dorothy had the power all long!) is spun as saccharin sweet wisdom. (The Wizard of Oz proved to be an awesome liar himself). In Wicked, Bailey brings charisma to the bubbly, hyper, relentlessly upbeat, comically self-absorbed Glinda. She arrives at the boarding school, wherein she is destined to meet her best friend Elphaba (Talia Suskauer), on top of a pile of luggage. Her boasts about her private room and entrance essay backfire, and the odiously green Elphaba becomes her roommate. Bailey makes clueless petulance delightful, earning laughs with lines like, “Something’s wrong!! I didn’t get my way.” And of course Glinda’s “Popular” is a show stopper that Bailey breezes through convincingly.
The other star of the show, Suskauer as Elphaba, immediately has the audience eating out of her hand. Suskauer is physically perfect for the part—a bean pole whose elastic limbs embody Elphaba’s awkwardness. Elphaba is also wise cracking and self-effacing. In a dramatic spinning bed sequence, the audience sees Elphaba’s tragic birth. For the perceived sin of being born the wrong color, as the product of her mother’s adultery, Elphaba is instantly reviled by her father (a commanding Wayne Schroder). In fairy tale fashion, Elphaba’s mother dies young, but not before giving birth to a wheel chair-bound second daughter, Nessarose (a beautiful and convincing Amanda Fallon Smith). Elphaba is so thoroughly punished for things that are not her fault, that it is no surprise when she ultimately snaps, Defying Gravity at the end of Act I. I cannot overstate the phenomenal lighting and special effects of this scene, in which Elphaba ascends into the air with a black cape two stories high, impressively belting her defiant ballad all the while.
Wicked is propelled by the relationship between Elphaba and Glinda. They share a delightful duet about loathing, before becoming best friends. The two women are very different, and they take two different paths at a critical juncture. One of the smart visuals in a masterfully ever-morphing set is their shared dorm room; Elphaba’s side is scholarly while Glinda has a virtual wall of shoes and a mountain of purple ruffles for a bed. Every great musical performance leaves one with a tune in your head—a lasting piece of the art. For me it is the final duet between Elphaba and Glinda, Changed for Good. In addition to being a beautiful piece of music, the lyrics bring the play together. Two people who are very different—different dispositions, tastes, strengths, appearances, and expectations—share a desire to learn. One has power but no idea how to use it, and the other seeks power for its own sake.
Wicked turns the trope of a love triangle into a love pentagon. Nessa loves Boq (sweetly played by DJ Plunkett), who loves Glinda, who loves Fiyero (a dashing and thoroughly convincing Curt Hansen), who loves . . . You get the picture. Hansen’s Fiyero is another delight. Here, too, Wicked takes a two-dimensional fairy tale character, the Prince, and breaths life and nuance into his shallow existence. In the final love scene, there is no rainbow to be found. Love is professed in a menacing bog-like gloom, as smoke carpets the ground. The special effects are fantastic.
Like every good fairy tale, the themes are timeless. Doctor Dillamond (sympathetically played by Clifton Davis), is a literal and figurative scape goat teaching history at the witches’ boarding school. He actually calls himself the “token goat on the faculty,” and bemoans that Oz used to be more “colorful,” with a greater diversity of talking animals, until a great draught created hardships, and the people “needed someone to blame.”
I caught Wicked on Broadway several years ago, and am now struck by how prescient it has proven to be. There is a plot thread addressed to the meaning of “history.” Doctor Dillamond is asked, “why can’t you just teach history instead of harping on the past?” The Doctor explains there is something bad under the surface and behind the scenes; people think it couldn’t happen here, but they are wrong. The Wizard (a thoroughly charming Cleavant Derricks), when repeatedly caught lying, explains that he is only giving people what they expect. You have to tell people what they want to hear. The best way to bring folks together is to give them a really good enemy. Don’t like spying? Just call the flying monkeys scouts protecting us. And my favorite lines of all: Truth is not a fact. It is just what everyone agrees on. You thought Judy Garland was the best protagonist ever? Well now she is a wretched farm girl who stole a dead woman’s shoes. The 1939 film vaguely echoed Kafka’s the Castle (published in 1926), and the play Wicked reminds me of George Orwell and his Animal Farm.
Truth takes another beating in a romantic setting. Glinda hilariously bemoans that her boyfriend has been thinking, “which really worries me.” The ultimate romance survives based on the repeated lines: “It’s not lying. It’s looking at things another way.”
As a kid I adored L. Frank Baum’s Oz series, and fortunately, the set designer Eugene Lee looked to the original novels’ illustrations. The visual effect is a stunning backdrop for a story that is by definition other worldly in its fantastical setting. The lighting, set, special effects, and costumes coalesce to serve up vision after vision. It is like giant museum pieces assembling seriatim as the play proceeds in front of them. There is no literal rainbow, but the set is transformed from scene to scene by a rainbow of different color pallets. One theme that is visually realized is the concept of layers. The set is a procession of art work, frequently dedicated to a clock theme—not just the face, but also the gears within. The costumes and the iterations of the Oz story also are layered.
The costumes are beyond parallel in intricacy and beauty. From the blue and white palette of the boarding school to the green excesses of the Emerald City, they are gorgeously detailed. The Emerald City scene in particular is a visual feast, with a multitude of green lights framing dancing citizenry bedecked in Edwardian-inspired garb. Each costume is a unique confection. Fans, umbrellas, boas, feathers, netting, brocade, bustles—it is all there. Hair, hats, fascinators, and cloth frequently defy gravity.
Wicked is recommended for children 8 and older, but there is plenty here to amuse the adults. Multiple references to the 1939 film are hilarious. The Music Hall is always comfortable, and it is great to be out again. For the production, the audience was asked to wear masks, although beverages and food were for sale in the lobby. I highly recommend this stunningly beautiful production as a great outing for the entire family.
Part of the Germania Insurance Broadway Series
August 3 – September 5, 2021
Music Hall at Fair Park
909 1st Avenue, Dallas, TX 75210
For information and Tickets call 800-982-2787 or go to https://dallassummermusicals.org/shows/wicked/