AISLE SAY Philadelphia


The National Tour
Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Winnie Holzman
Directed by Joe Mantello
Broadway at The Academy of Music
Avenue of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia Engagement Ended
for current and future bookings)
Kimmel Center Box Office: (215) 731-3333

Reviewed by Claudia Perry

Don't run, but rather fly to buy tickets to the National Touring Production of the Tony Award winning Wicked at the Academy of Music. This show works on so many different levels it's just downright scary -- but scary in a good way.

Wicked - The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz is essentially the prequel to The Wizard of Oz or what happened before Dorothy dropped in. It's about Glinda, (the Good Witch) and Elphaba (the Wicked Witch), the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion all came to be. You see, Glinda and Elphba attended the same school together in Oz, became fast friends, fell in love with the same hunky prince and molded their destinies in part due to their friendship

First, the show works as a story about female friendship -- how one woman enhances the other and is inexorably changed by the other. If there's such a thing as a "chick musical" this would be it. Secondly, this musical works as an allegory of our times -- because looming as the backdrop to this girlhood camaraderie is the volatile, political situation in Oz. Ozzians are surreptitiously capturing and incarcerating animals, torturing them, rendering them speechless and then lying about it. Hmm, secret torture and abuse and lies to cover it up -- sound familiar? Do the names Guantanomo and Abu Ghraib ring a bell? "Ding Dong the witch is dead!" Only this wicked witch is uncovering the evils of this green morass perpetrated by the bumbling Wizard of Oz himself. ("Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! ") Touted as a "sentimental man," (does "compassionate conservative" ring another bell? Ding, Dong!) the wizard is behind the curtain calling all the shots and lying through his smiling teeth. Hmm, doesn't George W. Bush do a heck of a lot of smiling?

Even if you're not a woman or are politically radicalized by the current climate of the country, you're still going to love "Wicked". Why? Because the music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz are so wonderful. There are songs, great songs such as, Defying Gravity, and "Popular" which have been popular since the show opened on Broadway, "No Good Deed" and the ballad, "As Long As You're Mine". Put simply, the score is a delicious melodic feast from beginning to end

Now the whole shebang wouldn't work as well as it does if it weren't for the stellar performances of its two leading ladies, Kenndra Kassebaum and Julia Murney who both in their own unique ways are quite spectacular. Ms. Kassebaum as Glinda has the comic timing of a young Judy Holiday and the sweet soprano of a Barbara Cook. What's not to like? On the other hand, Ms. Murney as Elphaba is elegant and vulnerable. She possesses a prodigious and wonderfully timbered voice and knows how to use it. Fine performances are turned in by Sebastian Arcelus as the hunky prince, Alma Cuervo as Madame Morrible and P. J. Benjamin as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Based on the novel by the same name by Gregory Maguire, the shows book by Winnie Holzman glitters with bon mots and comic references to the iconic Wizard of Oz that we all have in our collective consciousness. Things like, "Lemons and melons and pears, oh, my!" And Elphaba snapping at Glinda, "Well, we can't all arrive by bubble!" And when Elphaba laments the loss of the ruby slippers, "That wretched farm girl walked off with them! Where was she brought up -- in a barn?" Just as sparkling are the sets by Eugene Lee whose gears and cogs recall the dawn of an Ozzian style Industrial Revolution and the wonderfully inventive costumes by Susan Hilferty that are just a little Ozzian odd.

For a National Tour, this show goes off without a glitch thanks to the superlative direction of Joe Mantello and the fabulous staging by Wayne Cilento. When a show works this well, it's the unseen hands that are to be congratulated. I guarantee that wherever you see this production, you'll swear you're on the Great White Way.

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