There are Broadway hits, Broadway smashes, Broadway mega-smashes, and then there is Wicked. Rapidly approaching 4000 performances at the Gershwin Theatre after nearly ten years on the Great White Way… North American and International productions and tours galore… And not one but two major National Tours currently visiting cities throughout North America. The Second National Tour* stopped at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center For The Arts two years ago, and now it’s the First National Tour making a four-week visit to Costa Mesa in a production that Wicked fans and newbies will not want to miss. Quite simply put, for song, dance, story, spectacle, and emotional impact, Wicked is in a class all by itself.
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 spectacular cast assembled for this First National Tour and the immeasurable contributions of original Broadway director Joe Mantello in making the whole shebang work so brilliantly.
Since it was the Second National Tour that played the Segerstrom in 2011, the entire cast of the First National Tour will be new to Orange County audiences, and what a cast it is.
As Elphaba, Dee Roscioli takes one of the greatest roles written for a musical theater leading lady in the past several decades and makes it memorably her own, giving us a young woman who faces daily rejection with a deadpan stoicism that her friendship with Galinda and relationship with Fiyero eventually chip away, revealing a very unwicked young woman with a heart of pure gold beneath her green exterior. Roscioli sings every single Elphaba song as if it were for the first time and adds personal touches throughout (as when she previews a Margaret Hamilton cackle early on in “Popular.”)
Roscioli’s costar at the performance reviewed was understudy Cassie Okenka, giving so dazzling and finely-tuned a performance that it seems incredible that she has not been playing the role eight performances a week for months on end. I’ve seen five other Galindas over the past nine years, and Okenka’s is as sensational as it gets, and never more than in her infectiously gleeful “Popular.” Like Roscioli, Okenka’s work grows in depth as Galinda matures into the woman she is to become, and when she and her enemy-turned-bff duet “For Good” … well, I’m tearing up right now just remembering it.
Soap fans will relish Kim Zimmer’s presence in the cast as Madame Morrible, a role she plays with equal parts molasses and venom; Tom McGowan’s gives us a folksy, initially warm-hearted Wizard with a darker side he lets show ever so gradually; and Clifton Davis’s Doctor Dillamond combines dignity and pathos any goat would be proud of. Demaree Hill (Nessarose) and Justin Brill (Boq) both make strong impressions in the musical’s most underwritten roles. Finally, Cliffton Hall (whom L.A. and Orange County theatergoers may recall from his starring role in FCLO’s Flower Drum Song back in 2005) is as sexy a Fiyero as they get, sings superbly, and has great chemistry with Roscioli’s Elphaba.
The Wicked ensemble provide strong singing-dancing-acting backup in a variety of cameo roles and multiple character/costume tracks, most notably L.A. theater favorite Kevin McMahon, wickedly good (and quite wicked too) as Witch’s Father and an Ozzian Official. Other ensemble members with major cameos include Courtney Iventosch as the Witch’s Mother, SoCal favorite Dina Bennett as the Midwife, and understudy Kevin Jordan as Chistery, the head flying monkey.
Also appearing at the press opening performance were Lauren Boyd, Kyle Brown, Antonette Cohen, Rick Desloge, Timothy A. Fitz-Gerald, Napoleon W. Gladney, Trevor Ryan Krahl, Michael Mahany, Jonathan McGill, Shayla Osborn, swing Christopher Russo, Sarah Schenkkan, Adéa Michelle Sessoms, Pamela Shandrow, swing Shanna Vanderwerker, and Mikey Winslow—each and every one of whom, along with Bennett, Iventosch, Jordan, and McMahon, sings and dances with panache (and nary a breather between their countless costume changes).
Andrew Graham conducts the traveling orchestra (five touring and nine local musicians), all of whom provide thrilling backup to the cast’s vocal and dance performances. Stage managing at the performance reviewed were Molly Braverman, J. Jason Daunter, and Rolando Linares.
Don’t expect Wicked to show up at any of our Civic Light Operas or Music Theaters anytime soon…if ever. Neither National Tour (or the Broadway production for that matter) shows any signs of slowing or shutting down in the near or distant future, and frankly, I can’t imagine a regional theater attempting to replicate what Wicked does so amazingly, from monkeys flying sky-high to witches arriving in bubbles or taking off on broomsticks.
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 eighth), there is no other show quite like Wicked—as this superb First National Tour production makes abundantly clear.
*Both tours are equal in quality, the Second National Tour having been initiated after the First in order to satisfy the high demand for as much Wicked in as many cities as possible.
Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
February 21, 2013
Photos: Joan Marcus (except candids of Cassie Okenka)