With an intriguing plot, fabulous visuals, and a talented backing orchestra, the ever-popular musical offers something for everyone.
If you’ve lived anywhere in North America in the last 10 years, you’ve probably heard at least one person gush over Wicked. And they had good reason, as we’ve just seen at the Broadway play’s recent reprise at Ed Mirvish Theatre. A musical retelling of Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, the production chronicles the events that preceded Dorothy’s arrival in the The Wizard of Oz. More than a fluff piece, Wicked poses some serious questions on the topic of good and evil.
Born with bright green skin, young Elphaba is used to being an outcast. Loathed by her own father, she is sent to Shiz University (a sorcery school) for the sole purpose of caring for her younger, wheelchair-bound sister. Fate has other plans, though—upon arrival at the school her natural talent for witchcraft thrusts her into the spotlight, garnering praise from her headmistress and even capturing the attention of the almighty wizard.
Having a natural empathy for outsiders, Elphaba launches a campaign to save local animals that are being caged, silenced, and removed from the community (Oz creatures can talk and hold down human jobs). Seeking out the wizard for help, she soon realizes that he is behind it all, and needs her powers to finish the job. Refusing him, she flees and becomes an enemy of the state.
Elphaba’s only confidante during this time is her best friend, Glinda, a blonde, beautiful bubble of a girl. Complete opposites, the two form an unlikely sitcom-esque friendship when they’re forced to room together at the university. On the surface it would seem one of them is a symbol of good, the other of evil—but things are not as simple as they appear.
Although a friendship between a lonesome “freak” and a homecoming queen may seem impossible in reality, the palpable onstage connection between Laurel Harris (Elphaba) and Lindsey Brett Carothers (Glinda) made it seem plausible in Wicked. The actors seemed ecstatic to be working together, and their perfectly harmonious voices made for magical duets. A true testament to the quality of this production, Carothers—who is billed as the secondary Glinda understudy—was magnificent. Spoiled, shallow, but ultimately sweet, she’s the girl you want to hate, but somehow just can’t.
Unlike in many musicals where the plot is ancillary to blockbuster song-and-dance numbers, in Wicked the plot proved the strongest element of the production. That’s not to say the music wasn’t good—the actors and orchestra demonstrated enormous talent. It just isn’t the type of show that one leaves humming an earworm. The whimsical, well-paced story is replete with dark undertones, touching on subjects such as bullying, prejudice, and genocide, providing substance for those who care to look beneath the surface.
The stage design was one of the most striking elements of the show, consisting of multiple steampunk-inspired layers. An animatronic dragon loomed over the audience, a high-tech mechanical wizard’s head moved and spoke with incredible smoothness, and both Elphaba and Glinda flew with the help of expertly rigged and lit suspensions.
If you’re looking for a production to drag your anti-musical-theatre friends to, Wicked is the one. Offering an engaging story and a fantastic visual trip, it will appease Wizard of Oz fans, theatre enthusiasts, and origin-story lovers alike.