Wicked is pure spectacle, or to quote Glinda the Good Witch herself, it's a "thrill-ifying" experience that dazzles and delights, with terrific performances and eye-popping scenic design and special effects. The plot gives a back story to L. Frank's Baum's Wizard of Oz, that is unexpected, and infused with a positive message about accepting people for who they are and not how they appear.
While most musicals are guilty of utilizing a threadbare plot to hang a multitude of songs upon, such is not the case with Wicked. Here the reverse is nearly true, with Winnie Holzman's clever adaptation of Gregory Maguire's novel providing a sturdy framework for Stephen Schwartz's catchy score.
Glinda the Good Witch of North relates the tale of how her former schoolmate at Shiz University, the emerald-skinned Elphaba, came to be known as the Wicked Witch of the West. The action follows the pair as they become roommates and eventually friends, though they initially loathe one another, as illustrated in the song, "What Is This Feeling?".
Elphaba's prowess at magic leads to an audience with the Wizard, and the discovery that he is causing the animals of Oz to lose their ability to speak by having them censured and caged. She also learns that the Wizard has no real power and wishes to employ her to cast spells from a book of magic known as the Grimmerie. But Elphaba steals the book and flees the kingdom in rebellion.
Jeanna de Waal is hilarious as Glinda. Her mangling of the English language and narcissistic preening are effectively played for maximum laugh potential. Her vocals are also strong, and she's especially good on "Popular", a number which has her attempting to makeover Elphaba. Christine Dwyer is even better as ostracized and misunderstood Elphaba. She has an exceptional voice, whether soaring above the orchestra during "Defying Gravity", or conveying her heartbreak during the touching, "I'm Not That Girl".
Billy Harrigan Tighe amuses as the vacuous Winkie Prince, Fiyero. Though Glinda is smitten and determined to marry him, his heart is lost to Elphaba. Hall does nice work with the bouncy number, "Dancing Through Life", that details his basic philosophy, and the tender duet "As Long As You're Mine".
Zarah Mahler plays Elphaba's crippled sister, Nessarose and has her best moment during the song, "The Wicked Witch of the East", as a spell cast by her in anger shrinks the heart of her reluctant munchkin servant, Boq. Jay Russell elicits sympathy as the goat/Professor, Dr. Dillamond, who's losing his ability to speak without braying. Paul Kreppel is solid as the misguided and ineffectual Wizard, and shines on the number, "A Sentimental Man". Gina Ferrall is properly twisted as Shiz headmistress, Madama Morrible, who has a knack for conjuring up the weather.
Wicked is a triumph of staging, with Eugene Lee's ever-changing industrial/gothic set design nearly overwhelming the cast. It's a tribute to the direction of Joe Mantello and the choreography of Wayne Cilento that this doesn't occur. Somehow, through all the smoke and mirrors, the heart and humor of the story manages to come through.
This wonderful and thoroughly engaging production of Wicked continues at the Fabulous Fox Theatre through January 6th (2013).