Wicked the Musical Review in Toronto

Daring to tread on the sacred ground that is The Wizard of Oz seems like a risky endeavor, almost sacrilege to some. However, it is fertile enough to give life to those with a vision, and the musical prequel Wicked is just such a show to take that on. It serves the material well and tells a story that, while sometimes uneven, absolutely dazzles and amazes at times, thanks to the collected talents on display.

Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics) and Winnie Holzman (book for the musical) give us a very interesting and fun backstory for the Wicked Witch of the West (Lauren Samuels). Once known as Elphaba, she was a promising and powerful young witch at Shiz University whose only fault was being born with green skin. Her roommate was none other than Glinda (Austen Danielle Bohmer), a witch who kicks off the show by announcing the Wicked Witch is dead. Thus begins the flashback story of these two witches. Their relationship runs the gamut of tension-filled standoffs, becoming enemies and, finally, to their own surprise, friends. 

Through their strained, tension-filled relationship/friendship, we are introduced to Fiyero (Xavier McKinnon). His good looks and charm hide something lurking beneath the shiny surface, catching the attention of both Glinda and Elphaba. It’s a fun dynamic, and McKinnon is convincing as a suave and seductive man who is much more than meets the eye. There are some wonderful interactions between these three at different times, both engaging and funny, creating an authentic sense of tension and drama.

Enough cannot be said about the two leads in Wicked. Both Samuels and Bohmer shine as Elphaba and Glinda, giving their characters a combination of vulnerability and desire. Their voices are strong but different; they complement each other, weaving together well in numbers, especially the closing number of Act 1, “Defying Gravity.” They have great chemistry, even as their budding friendship is built on very shaky ground. Bohmer takes Glinda on a hilarious ride at times, both intentionally and unintentionally, while Samuels takes Elphaba’s always-bubbling intensity and wrongly crowned villain label to levels of incredible emotional heights. 

The first act struggles at times, as the ups and downs of this friendship seem to sway the ebb and flow of the play itself. However, after the bombastic final number, Act 2 takes us to a whole different level. We meet new and interesting characters, such as Madame Morrible (Aymee Garcia), The Wizard (Blake Hammond), and Doctor Dillamond (Kingsley Leggs), whose rightful outrage spurs Elphaba to act. The musical has a serious undertone about how, if not careful, we can march towards fascism. However, it never becomes the story and instead is just there, underneath, coming up to breathe when moments allow.

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Several of the musical numbers were just outstanding. Standouts “No Good Deed” and “One Short Day” showed off the talents of both the actors/singers and lighting crew alike, while the opening number, “No One Mourns the Wicked,” grabbed the audience right away with humor, singing, dancing and the menacing dragon’s head with the glowing red eyes. Powerful songs for different reasons that kept the audience at full attention and fully appreciative of what they were seeing and hearing. 

Director Joe Mantello’s production is a wonderful collection of colors and shapes, atmosphere and aesthetics. The talents of Kenneth Posner (lighting), Susan Hilferty (costumes), and Eugene Lee (set design) combine to give the show both an eerie and dazzling look. The one issue I had with the production focused on the sound. While the score and talent performing the numbers were wonderful, the volume on certain songs was a bit too high, causing dialogue to be completely drowned out. I found this curious as I’ve never experienced this before, only songs that built-in volume due to the need for a grandiose display and fed by the story itself. 

Wicked is a musical that tries to do many things. It touches on friendships, hope, betrayal, persecution, and fascism while dazzling the audience with a mix of singing, humor, color, and light. For the most part, it succeeds, making the show a worthy adventure


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