After nearly a year in Hollywood, the Broadway phenomenon that is Wicked
continues to fill all 2700 seats of the Pantages with no end in sight … and no
wonder.  Few musicals can rival Wicked in terms of song, romance, color,
spectacle, and heart.

To begin with, there’s Winnie Holzman’s book, based on Gregory Maguire’s novel,
which sparkles with wit and magic. A sort of prequel to The Wizard of Oz, telling
the familiar story from Elphaba (the “Wicked Witch of the West”)’s point of view,
Wicked’s formula for success is to blend several can’t-miss genres into one
captivating whole. There’s the world of fantasy that made the original Wizard of
Oz and the recent Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings films so popular. Then, like
Beaches and Fried Green Tomatoes, Wicked tells the story of an enduring
friendship between two women, Elphaba and Glinda, the “Good Witch of the
North, known here as Galinda (“with a ‘-Ga'”). Add to that a pair of intersecting
romantic triangles any soap opera would be proud of: Galinda loves Fiero who
loves Elphaba & Nessarose loves Boq who loves Galinda. Finish off with a story of
the transformative power of love (“Because I knew you, I have been changed for
good”) and you have a musical that can touch all but the hardest heart and
which appeals to audiences of all ages.

Secondly, there is Stephen Schwartz’s truly memorable music. (Schwartz wrote the
lyrics as well). Only rarely has a CD stayed in my car stereo as long as did the
original cast recording of Wicked back in 2003.  For well over a week I could not
bring myself to push the eject button and switch to something else.  From the
stirring opening chords of “No One Mourns The Wicked” to the show-stopping and
star-making “The Wizard And I” to the delightful pair of Elphaba/Galinda duets
(“What Is This Feeling?” and “Popular”) to the heartbreaking “I’m Not That Girl” to
the gasp-inducing “Defying Gravity,” these are but a few of Schwartz’s funny,
thrilling, and memorable creations, and that’s just Act 1. Act 2 introduces the
stirringly emotional love song “As Long As You’re Mine,” the dramatic “No Good
Deed,” and arguably the best and most moving of the bunch, the previously
quoted “For Good.”

Then, there’s the dazzling work of Wicked’s design team. As deserving of praise as
L.A.’s musical theater scene is, no CLO production or touring show can possibly
compete with the Broadway-scale budget of this “sit down” production. Eugene
Lee’s spectacular sets, with their meshing gears motif are enhanced by Kenneth
Posner’s spectacular lighting, which fills and surrounds the proscenium with color
and dazzle.  Susan Hilferty’s dozens and dozens of alternate universe costumes and
Tom Watson’s equally original wigs are brilliant feats of imagination (and $$$).
Wayne Cilento’s ingenious and quirky choreography, like Wicked’s costumes and
wigs, seems to have come from another world, like nothing we have seen before.

Last, though certainly not least, there is the stellar cast and the immeasurable
contributions of original Broadway director Joe Mantello.

In the Broadway production, it was Idina Menzel as Elpahba who beat out Kristin
Chenoweth’s Galinda for the Tony.  In the current L.A. cast, the evening’s most
stunning work is done by Megan Hilty as Galinda. No criticism is implied to the
show’s brand new Elphaba (Caissie Levy). It’s simply that Hilty, who benefits from
having the showier of the two roles, has had several years to create and perfect a
performance that any other Galinda would find it hard to top.  Hilty started as the
Broadway Galinda standby, assumed the role in New York in 2005 and has been
playing it at the Pantages since the show opened here last February. Her
experience shows.  Take “Popular,” in which Hilty’s rapid succession of imaginative
bits of “business” must surely be the result of countless moments of “Let me try
that” or “Oh, that worked!” inspiration, one layered atop another until the end
result is sheer comic brilliance.  There’s also the way that Hilty subtly moves Galinda
from selfish and self-centered to ultimately becoming the caring and self-sacrificing
friend who has been “changed for good.”  Finally, there is Hilty’s voice, an operatic
soprano one minute, a Broadway belt the next.  Someone give this woman a
deserved award for this performance!

Caissie Levy, who has just joined the L.A. company, has big shoes to fill, those of
Tony winner Menzel, those of Stephanie J. Block, who played Elphaba in the
touring production at the Pantages in 2005, and most recently, those of Eden
Espinosa, who originated the role in the L.A production. Though clearly she has
room to grow and strengthen in the role, Levy is already a fine addition to the
cast.  She captures Elphaba’s cute oddness in the early scenes and, like Hilty,
transitions effectively into the strong, brave woman that Elphaba becomes. She
also has the pipes to “sell” Wicked’s powerful showstoppers—“The Wizard And I,”
“Defying Gravity,” and “No Good Deed.”

Like Levy, Joanne Worley is new to the cast, and as anyone who recalls her from
the 1960s TV smash Laugh In can imagine, Worley reinvents the role of sorceress
Madame Morrible, big and brassy in early scenes, big and sinister later on as the
character’s true nature is revealed. Seeing this 60s icon still going strong and
having a ball on stage should prove a thrill (and inspiration) to audience baby

John Rubinstein continues to delight as the Wizard and Timothy Britten Parker
makes for a funny and touching Doctor Dillamond. Marcie Dodd is the new
Nessarose, and like Nessas before her, though very good, she is perhaps
unavoidably underused in a role which was certainly given more “stage time” in
Maguire’s original novel.

Congratulations are in order for Michael Drolet, who just two years ago was part of
the ensemble of Musical Theatre West’s Thoroughly Modern Millie, soon after which
he joined the Wicked ensemble, and recently graduated to the role of Boq.  Fine-
voiced Drolet is adorable, and sweetly pathetic, as the Munchkin impossibly in love
with Galinda.

Last, but certainly not least, there is Kristoffer Cusick, who moved from the original
Broadway cast ensemble to originating the role of Fiyero in the Chicago
production and then to doing the same in the L.A production. Hunky Cusick has
Fiyero’s swagger down pat, and cuts a heroic romantic figure opposite Levy in
their love scenes. That he’s also a fine singer and dancer (and a Southern
California native to boot) makes him a talent whose career we look forward to

As Wicked moves towards its second year at the Pantages, the recent cast
additions make seeing the show a fresh experience for anyone, even for those
who, like myself, have seen it numerous times before.  For those who are
experiencing Wicked for the first time, it will be the thrilling discovery it was for the
friend who accompanied me to the theater on Thursday.  If the tumultuous
applause at the Act 1 finale blackout and the unanimous/instantaneous standing
ovation Hilty and Levy received as they came on stage to take their bows are any
indication, Wicked is likely to be filling the Pantages for months and even years to

Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

–Steven Stanley
January 10, 2008
Photos: Joan Marcus

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