Delightfully wicked and good
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER – Whether it’s the surprisingly operatic talent of the Wicked Witch, the way every member of the ensemble performs with the 150 percent fervor of a starring character or the sheer cleverness of the story with all of its profound undertones, “Wicked” will have you driving back to the valley with your heart pounding and thoughts swimming. And you’ll probably be singing a happy show tune about defying gravity or unadulterated loathing.
Broadway’s biggest blockbuster, which broke box-office records the last time it came through Denver in 2009, is back at the Buell Theater at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. If the jam-packed opening night’s lasting standing ovation is any indication, it’s bound to be at least as much of a smash hit this time around.
For those unfamiliar with the production, it features Winnie Holzman’s book, plus music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz drawn from Gregory Maguire’s original novel – “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.”
The play begins with a scene familiar to anyone who has seen “The Wizard of Oz” – the celebration of the apparent death of the Wicked Witch. Then, however, comes the back story. The witch’s name is Elphaba, and her life has not been easy from the beginning. When she was born, everyone in attendance gasped in horror at her vibrant green skin and her father insisted she be removed from his sight. This scene is executed with such weight in the intensity of the facial expressions, elaborate costumes, transformation of the lights and stage and the power of the orchestra, you are hypnotized from the start.
One can imagine that any girl who grows up terrifying and/or drawing ridicule from everyone who lays eyes upon her could stand a chance of developing some emotional issues, but Elphaba weathers the cruelty quite well. Still, she goes through her life without a single friend until her father forces her to go away to school with the solitary purpose of taking care of her wheelchair-bound sister. It is here that the green, frumpily dressed but wickedly smart and magically talented (especially when her temper flares) Elphaba first meets Galinda (later to become Glinda the Good Witch of the North). Glinda rolls in with her beautiful blonde hair bouncing and an entourage of worshippers but somehow (in spite of requesting “a private suite”) ends up with Elphaba as her roommate. Although they start out hating each other (where that great loathing song kicks in), the two become unlikely friends.
It becomes quickly apparent that in spite of the stigma and stereotypes she constantly faces, Elphaba is actually terribly misunderstood. Dorothy and the yellow brick road become just a bright blip in the subtext, and “Wicked” unfolds as a highly entertaining, funny, sad and highly unique examination of the nature of good and evil, the danger of conformity and mass-mindedness and the uncanny strength of friendship and love.
The crowd alone at opening night this year in Denver spoke to the pervasive appeal of the musical, with everyone from the usual older, well-dressed and sophisticated theater crowd to teenagers donning their most upscale Halloweenish (or Ozish?) attire.
Every single member of the cast – especially the extremely vocally talented Mamie Parris as Elphaba and the hilarious and charismatic Alli Mauzey as Glinda – leaves no ounce of passion or talent unperformed. From the booming orchestra and over-the-top but classy costumes and incredible dancing (even in heels!) and singing to the superb acting that delivers an extra round of laughs and gasps with each exchange of dialogue – this show is nothing short of grand.