Review of Wicked at Proctors Theater
by Katie Beltramo
The national tour of the smash Broadway hit Wicked returned to Proctors Theater on Wednesday (it broke box office records there in 2009), and it continues through Thanksgiving weekend. The show is recommended for ages 8 and up, and children under 4 will not be admitted.
First opening in 2003, Wicked feels thoroughly modern and hip, with a steampunk-inspired, otherworldly set and citizens of Oz wearing costumes that are both sumptuous and outlandish (think Helena Bonham Carter on a funky day, but with more hair and brocade). The first characters we see are a couple of flying monkeys, and they exemplify the style of the musical while offering an immediate tie with the movie most theater-goers know well (and perhaps startling young kids in the process). Dorothy herself is elusive, although Wizard of Oz fans will recognize inside jokes and appreciate the back stories offered about her companions.
Wicked offers a wider context for the familiar tale of Dorothy's visit to Oz, but it centers on the characters Elphaba (Christine Dwyer), later known as the Wicked Witch of the West, and Galinda (Jeanna de Waal), who becomes Glinda the Good. Their rivalry and friendship is the emotional and musical core of the story. Both actresses are superb. The story doesn't merely exchange roles, with Elphaba as good and Glinda as bad. Instead each character is more complex: Elphaba juggles good-humored acceptance of her lot with brash anger and moments of effusive hope, like during "The Wizard and I," and Glinda, who appears entirely brainless and self-absorbed at the beginning, reveals herself to be kinder, more clever, and more tormented by her choices than we expect. Creating well-rounded characters while hitting high notes and offering enough humor to keep the 3-hour-long show moving along is a tall order, and both women do it beautifully.
Along the way, they tell a story so fraught with insight about bullying, scapegoats, appreciating differences, standing up for what is right, and believing in yourself (even if the grown-ups around you don't) that I felt the urge to get tickets for every middle-school or high-school age kid I know. If you've got one of those kids, take them. And then plan a little time afterwards to talk about it all while it's still fresh.
As for younger kids, I think that Proctors' recommendations (8 and up, and not younger than 4) are absolutely appropriate. There are some dark scenes that could scare young kids, like just as Elphaba's first born and especially when Elphaba and Glinda visit the Wizard of Oz. Many of the themes that resonate so well with grown-ups and adolescents would be lost on younger kids. However, from my limited survey of the kids who attended our performance, most of the kids loved it, whether or not they caught all of the jokes and themes.
Along with the leads and their story, two other cast stand-outs were Dr Dillamond (Jay Russell), a comic-to-tragic goat who becomes oppressed in Oz's increasingly anti-Animal regime, and Fiyero (Billy Harrigan Tighe), as the cocky popular boy for whom both Glinda and Elphaba pine. While I loved that the romantic story was peripheral to the story of female friendship, Fiyero offered a great complement for each of the women while providing some much-appreciated heat to the plot. By contrast, the roles of Madame Morrible (Gina Ferrall) and The Wizard (Paul Kreppel), both of which seemed to offer opportunity for campy comedy and scary villainy, felt suprisingly flat.
The best musical numbers were those that highlighted the two main characters, and the few songs that I'd heard before seeing the musical--the quirky-fun "Popular" sung by Ms. de Waal and "For Good," a gorgeous ballad of friendship, only took on more emotional resonance now that I could place them in the plot with characters I'd grown to understand. Among the larger musical productions, "Dancing Through Life" was the most energetic fun. "No One Mourns the Wicked," which opened each act, may have set the plot, but it is tough to feel extraordinarily upbeat about a whole group cheering anyone's death, wicked or not. For the biggest "wow," nothing could beat "Defying Gravity" at the end of the first act, which offered a dramatic light show surpassed only by Ms. Dwyer's soaring voice.
It's easy to understand Wicked's broad appeal. Beyond its pure entertainment value, it offers insight into ideas worth talking about, whether you're applying them to world events (as local Wicked author Gregory Maguire does in a recent Times Union piece) or a talk with your middle-schooler about being kind to classmates.
Wicked is showing at Proctors Theatre, Schenectady, through Nov. 25, 2012. For schedule and ticket information, call 581-346-6204 or visit www.proctors.org.
© 2012 Katie Beltramo.
Katie Beltramo, a mom of two, is editor of Kids Out and About. She also blogs at Capital District Fun.