Sunday, June 1, 2014

Review: (Vancouver / Theatre) Wicked

Kathy Fitzgerald (photo by Joan Marcus)
As magical as Oz
Broadway is in Vancouver with a powerful production of Wicked
by Chris Lane

A fantastic set, exquisite costumes, a highly talented cast and a captivating story spun off a well-known film: Wicked has all the right ingredients to cast a spell on a crowd, and it certainly delivers. It’s just what you expect the Broadway tour of Wicked to be – not quite the same as seeing it in New York, but oh so close.

Wicked tells the back story of the Wizard of Oz, delving into how two girls, Elphaba and Glinda, grow up in Oz and meet at college before becoming the Wicked Witch of the West and the Good Witch of the North. It’s a captivating tale – better than many musicals that rely on song and dance to carry the plot. The play cleverly explains how all the different Oz characters came to be so Wicked or Wonderful, or to lack courage, a heart or a brain. The writing picks apart what it means to be considered wicked, and how a well-intentioned and intelligent girl, born with green skin, can become a pariah – and also forge a strong connection with Glinda, who couldn’t be more different from her.

Kara Lindsay shines as Glinda, the pretty, blonde and privileged counterpart to Elphaba. Lindsay has the part of the narcissistic popular girl down to a tee, while also being endearing enough to fit the Good Witch role. She’s consistently very funny, largely due to a suitably cloying speaking voice – complemented by a sugary-sweet (and much nicer) singing voice and pop-star looks that are a perfect fit for a song like “Popular.”

Laurel Harris wonderfully captures Elphaba’s gradual transformation from a well-intentioned loner fighting against a world that doesn’t welcome her, to the one all of Oz knows as the Wicked Witch. Harris is magically dramatic in her solos, commanding the stage without even needing the showy lighting, fog and special effects – in particular, she nails the powerfully climactic “No Good Deed.” She and Lindsay have excellent chemistry, from the initial animosity to the growing understanding and then inevitable strife, giving weight and nuance to their duets.

Another highlight is Kathy Fitzgerald as the imposing Madame Morrible, the powerful headmistress of Elphaba and Glinda’s school, who is also in charge of sorcery lessons. There are certainly no weak links in the cast, and the large dance numbers are a delight to watch, with superb dancers flying all over the place.

The costumes by Susan Hilferty are stunning and not easily forgotten, particularly the lavish gowns in Emerald City, at once beautiful and almost comically opulent. Throughout the show, the costumes are just different enough from their Edwardian inspirations to evoke a certain air of fantasy, of both wickedness and virtue.

The set by Eugene Lee is very impressive; huge mechanical clock pieces move beautifully behind the stage at times, with a fluidity that helps transport the audience on a journey through the witches’ past, immersed in the land of Oz.

Essentially, Wicked is one of those shows that audiences can’t stop raving about, so you expect it to be amazing. While it might not have exceeded expectations, that’s only because our expectations were so high in the first place. It lives up to the hype.

May 28 - June 29

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