How many times have you seen Wicked?
I first caught the way-popular musical about the witches in The Wizard of Oz on Broadway more than a decade ago. Since then, I’ve seen it multiple times — maybe four or five, I’ve lost count — at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and and Fort Lauderdale’s Broward Center. Each time Glinda the Good Witch and Elphaba, aka the Wicked Witch of the West, swoop back into South Florida, I’m there.
You might think I’d be tired of Wicked by now, right? Not a clock tick, as Glinda and Elphaba might say. Some touring Broadway shows just never seem to show their age, and Wicked, now back at the Arsht for a three-week run, is one of them. The Arsht crowd, which cheers loudly after the touring cast’s fine renditions of such familiar Wicked songs as Popular, I’m Not That Girl, Defying Gravity, As Long as You’re Mine and For Good, apparently agrees.
Based on Gregory Maguire’s Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, the musical has a sumptuous score by Stephen Schwartz and a clever book by Winnie Holzman. It lost the 2004 best musical Tony Award (as well as the best score and best book awards) to Avenue Q, but in many ways Wicked has had the last laugh.
It’s still running on Broadway, edging up on 4,750 performances. And its first national touring company, on the road for 10 years with 14 different actresses playing Elphaba and 10 playing Glinda, ends its peripatetic run Sunday having grossed $790 million.
The company at the Arsht, dubbed the Munchkinland tour, is as impressive as those who have come before it. Performing on Eugene Lee’s Tony Award-winning, clock-themed sets topped by a huge red-eyed dragon; wearing Susan Hilferty’s comically stylish, Tony-winning costumes and wigs; illuminated, often with an extra twinkle of green, by Kenneth Posner’s lighting, the cast brings to life a magical world with plenty to say about our ordinary one.
Wicked has endured for reasons beyond its spectacle and appealing score. It’s a musical about prejudice, bullying, friendship, love, rejection and government secrecy, just some of its many themes. It cleverly works in nods to the familiar characters in The Wizard of Oz: the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, Dorothy, Toto. And though it has plenty of dramatic conflict, it’s often delightfully whimsical.
Directed by Joe Mantello and choreographed by Wayne Cilento, the company at the Arsht has two powerhouse leads in Alyssa Fox as Elphaba and Carrie St. Louis as Glinda. Both have beautiful voices, and both take the audience on persuasive journeys.
Fox’s Elphaba transforms from angry outcast to a woman with her own style of compassion and heroism. St. Louis, a terrific physical comedienne, takes Glinda from the kind of spoiled, self-centered girl who might have been cast in her school production of Legally Blonde to a mature young woman who knows heartbreak and sacrifice.
The supporting cast is terrific too: dapper John Davidson as the charming, conniving Wonderful Wizard of Oz; Ashley Parker Angel, boy-band handsome as the initially shallow prince Fiyero; Liana Hunt as Elphaba’s angry sister Nessarose; Lee Slobotkin as Boq, the Munchkin with a crush on Glinda; Michael DeVries as Dr. Dillamond, the Wizard’s literal scapegoat; Jane Brockman as the sneaky headmistress Madame Morrible.
The musical’s flying monkeys, roaring dragon and the danger faced by the rebellious Elphaba may make some parents think twice about bringing little ones to the show. But for the rest of us theater fans, whether it’s for the first time or the sixth, it’s Wicked (not the Wizard) that’s wonderful.
If you go
What: ‘Wicked’ by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman.
Where: Ziff Ballet Opera House at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday, through March 29.
Cost: $49-$195 (lottery for $25 orchestra tickets at box office 21/2 hours before each show, cash only, maximum two per person).
Information: 305-949-6722 or www.arshtcenter.org.