The plucky young witches of Wicked, bubbly blond Glinda and green girl Elphaba, have landed again in South Florida, this time for a three-week run at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
The 2003 smash, directed by Joe Mantello and with musical staging by Wayne Cilento, is still going strong on Broadway at more than 3,800 performances. It has played the region multiple times since its first visit in 2006, and this is its fourth time in Fort Lauderdale. But given the constantly-replenished crop of kid theatergoers -- Wicked gains new young fans each time it comes around -- the 10-year-old musical is likely to show up on touring Broadway lineups for many seasons to come.
Considering the show’s spectacle, the meaningful messages in its entertaining story and the carefully maintained quality of the production, that’s a good thing. A show that delivers on multiple levels, as Wicked does, is what audiences who spend top dollar to see a touring Broadway production should get but sometimes don’t.
Based on Gregory Maguire’s imaginative 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, the musical centers on the back stories of several characters from The Wizard of Oz -- particularly that tale’s witches. Playwright Winnie Holzman and composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz focus largely on the Shiz University college days of the prickly misfit Elphaba (Christine Dwyer) and her roommate Glinda (Jenna De Waal), a beautiful and popular mean girl.
The young women clash, as mismatched roommates will, but eventually forge an unlikely yet deep friendship that will see them through romantic rivalry, political turmoil in the not-so-wonderful world of Oz, and life-and-death plot twists. Holzman’s clever script is full of puns, quirkiness and imaginative takes on how the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion came to be, but there’s also content that speaks to grownups: the demonization of those who are different, the consequences of tolerating evil, the difference between external and internal beauty.
Schwartz’s soaring score has its own thematic variety, from playfulness ( Popular) to resigned longing ( I’m Not That Girl) to defiance ( Defying Gravity) and more. Wicked requires a pair of leading ladies with strong, expressive voices, and the current production has them in Dwyer and De Waal. Dwyer’s huskier, lower voice registers Elphaba’s strength, pain and the thrill of passion; De Waal, who initially brings a bright pop tone to Glinda, grows richer vocally as her character is burnished by difficult experience.
The women have fine support from their fellow actors: handsome Billy Harrigan Tighe as a boy-band hunky Fiyero, the gals’ mutual love interest; Gina Ferrall as the devious Madame Morrible; Zarah Mahler as Elphaba’s disabled, doted-on younger sister Nessarose; Michael Wartella as the tormented Munchkin Boq; Jay Russell as the scapegoat Doctor Dillamond; TV veteran Paul Kreppel as the conniving, slippery Wizard of Oz.
The design elements of Wicked, including Tony Meola’s perfectly mixed sound design, are stellar. Eugene Lee’s sets and Susan Hilferty’s costumes, both Tony Award winners, and Kenneth Posner’s lighting give the show its opulent, dazzling look.
And so once more, just like the bright green beauty whose journey is at least as compelling as Dorothy’s, Wicked soars.