Reviewed by Judy Richter
The opening song is "No One Mourns the Wicked," but in reality, everyone cheers "Wicked," the hit musical that has returned to San Francisco, where it got its start in 2003 before going on to its Broadway success. This is its second return visit to San Francisco. Its first was the national tour in August 2005. I didn't see the original production, which reportedly underwent significant changes and improvements before going to Broadway. However, I did see the 2005 production, and I found this latest one even more enjoyable. Perhaps it was easier to follow the plot and character development the second time around. Perhaps I focused on those qualities more than references to the iconic 1939 film musical, which was based on L. Frank Baum's novel "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." "Wicked" is based on Gregory Maguire's novel (adapted by Winnie Holzman), a sort of prequel that looks at what happened before a tornado plopped Dorothy and Toto into Oz.
"Wicked" focuses on the two college girls who became the Wicked Witch and the Good Witch. The former is Elphaba (Teal Wicks), who was born green and who was promptly rejected by her father (Tim Talman), the governor of Munchkinland. Elphaba goes to college, where she and Good Witch-to-be Glinda (Kendra Kassebaum) are forced to become roommates. The pairing separates Elphaba from her beloved younger sister, Nessarose (Deedee Magno Hall), who uses a wheelchair. Elphaba and Glinda make an unlikely pair. The intelligent Elphaba dresses plainly and takes her studies seriously. Glinda is an airhead, but she's pretty, dresses well and is popular. Over time, however, the two warm up to each other, and Glinda vows to make Elphaba "Popular" like herself. Kassebaum is hilarious in this number, flouncing about and chirping about what she'll do for Elphaba.
The plot twists and turns as Elphaba becomes aware of the oppression that's taking place in Munchkinland and looks forward to telling the Wonderful Wizard of Oz (David Garrison) what's happening so that he can stop it. Another complication is that both young women take an interest in a handsome young man, Fiyero (Nicolas Dromard), who's initially just as vacuous as Glinda but who gains a social conscience because of Elphaba. In the meantime, Elphaba's experiences in Oz prompt her to become the Wicked Witch, but underneath she's not bad, just misunderstood.
Stephen Schwartz's melodic music and clever lyrics help to propel the story, as do Joe Mantello's taut direction and Wayne Cilento's musical staging. The set by Eugene Lee, costumes by Susan Hilferty, lighting by Kenneth Posner and special effects by Chic Silber add greatly to the experience. Several examples include the fierce dragon that looms above the orchestra throughout the show and the spectacular lighting as Elphaba is elevated in the show's most exciting song and scene, "Defying Gravity," which ends the first act.
A terrific casts helps to deliver Schwartz's songs, overseen by music director Bryan Perri and music supervisor Stephen Oremus. Wicks as Elphaba and Kassebaum as Glinda blend well in songs like "What Is This Feeling?" and "For Good," as well as "Defying Gravity." They also do well dramatically as their characters mature and their friendship evolves. In addition to Hall as Nessarose, Garrison as the Wizard and Dromard as Fiyero, the production features noteworthy performances from Carol Kane as Madame Morrible, Eddy Rioseco as Boq and Tom Flynn as Doctor Dillamond.
To celebrate the return of "Wicked," several San Francisco landmarks, including City Hall, Coit Tower and the Ferry Building, were bathed in green light at night during the week leading up to the opening on Feb. 6.