The international smash musical sensation that is Wicked has arrived in Costa Mesa for a four-week run, two-to-four times longer than most of the Broadway Tours that play the Segerstrom Center For The Arts—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 as seen through the eyes of the Wicked Witch of the West, Wicked’s formula for success is to blend several can’t-miss genres into one captivating whole. There’s the world of fantasy that has made the original Wizard of Oz and the spate of 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, the aforementioned “Wicked Witch,” 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 and 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 which appeals to audiences of all ages and can touch all but the hardest heart.

Secondly, there is Stephen Schwartz’s truly memorable music and his clever lyrics. 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, memorable creations, and that’s just Act One. Act Two 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. Though simplified for the tour, Eugene Lee’s spectacular sets with their meshing gears motifs are gorgeous treats, particularly as enhanced by Kenneth Posner’s vivid lighting, which fills and surrounds the proscenium with color and dazzle. Susan Hilferty’s dozens upon dozens of alternate universe costumes and Tom Watson’s equally original wigs are brilliant feats of imagination (and major bucks). Wayne Cilento’s ingenious and quirky musical staging, 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 sensational cast assembled for this Second National Tour and the immeasurable contributions of original Broadway director Joe Mantello in making the whole shebang work so brilliantly.

Stars Anne Brummel (Elphaba) and Natalie Daradich (Glinda) might not have the name value of the show’s original leads, but that’s about the only thing “lacking” in their superb (and perfectly matched) performances. Brummel may get the power ballads, but Daradich gets the comedy bits—and both execute them to perfection, combining vocal and acting chops with oodles of charisma and some great onstage chemistry.

Marilyn Caskey gives Madame Morrible a Vanessa Redgrave elegance and hauteur that morphs slickly into villainy and Tom McGowan makes for a warm and folksy (yet ultimately self-serving) Wizard. Zach Hanna is an adorably plucky Boq, Michelle London brings a delicate beauty and tragic intensity to Nessarose, and Martin Moran shows us Dr. Dillamond’s dignity underneath his goat’s mask. Finally, David Nathan Perlow may just be the handsomest, sexiest, most romantic Fiyero yet.

The Wicked ensemble provide strong singing-dancing-acting backup in a variety of cameo roles and multiple character/costume tracks. Appearing at the press opening performance were Kerry Blanchard, Michael Drolet, Ryan Patrick Farrell, Samantha Farrow, KC Fredericks (Chistery), Tiffany Haas, Todd Hanebrink, Laurel Harris, Lauren Linville, Lesley McKinnell, Don Richard (Witch’s Father, Ozian Official), Robert Pendilla, Casey Quinn, Tory Ross, Billy Harrigan Tigue, Daniel Torres, Erin Wilson, and Justin Wirick, with swings (dance captain Jeremy Duvall, Peter C. Ermides, Lauren Haughton, Courtney Iventosch, Ryan Jackson, and dance captain Lindsay Wood) standing by to provide backup when necessary, and Christine Dwyer standing by for Elphaba.

Adam Souza conducts the traveling orchestra (five touring and nine local musicians), all of whom provide thrilling backup to the cast’s vocal and dance performances. David Hansen is production stage manager.

With its story, its spectacle, its connections to our collective childhoods (and our repeated viewings of The Wizard Of Oz), its cast of characters each one of us can identify with, and a half-dozen or so flying monkeys to boot, Wicked shows no signs of slowing down, either on Broadway or on tour. For those visiting Schwartz, Holzman, and Maguire’s vision of Oz for the very first time, or for the many who will be returning for their umpteenth visit (it was this reviewer’s seventh), there is no other show quite like Wicked—as this superb National Tour production makes abundantly clear.

Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
–Steven Stanley
March 10, 2011
Photos: Joan Marcus

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