Reviewed by Judy Richter
"Wicked" is regarded as a prequel to "The Wizard of Oz," the 1939 film that remains popular today. Audience members will have fun identifying sly references to the film.
"Wicked" (book by Winnie Holzman based on a novel by Gregory Maguire) is primarily the story of the two witches in the film. However, the wicked one doesn't start that way, nor does the good one begin as quite so virtuous.
Elphaba (Emmy Raver-Lampman, the standby for Emma Hunton) is the green-toned young woman who goes to Shiz, a college in Oz run by Madame Morrible (Alison Fraser). Shunned by nearly everyone, the studious Elphaba is there to take care of her younger sister, Nessarose (Jenny Florkowski), who uses a wheelchair.
Also arriving at Shiz is Glinda (Chandra Lee Schwartz), a beautiful, conceited, devious, vacuous blonde. Much to their mutual consternation, they're roommates.
The two develop a friendship even though both are attracted to another new student, Fiyero (Nick Adams), a handsome, rich young man who prides himself on "Dancing Through Life."
In the meantime, Elphaba realizes that there's oppression of people who are different or who espouse opposing views in Munchkinland. Therefore, she decides to tell the Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Tim Kazurinsky). She's bitterly disappointed when she learns the truth about him, but she also discovers her magical powers.
As she endures more disappointments, she vows that "No Good Deed" will go unpunished and becomes known as the Wicked Witch. For Glinda's part, she matures and becomes more insightful and good.
Stephen Schwartz's music and lyrics are memorably tuneful. Two of the best songs are "Popular," sung by the bouncy Glinda as she decides she'll give Elphaba a makeover, and "Defying Gravity," sung mainly by Elphaba and Glinda as the rousing end to the first act.
Touring productions can sometimes seem tired and low-budget, but not this one. The singing, dancing and acting are all first-rate, especially by Raver-Lampman as Elphaba and Schwartz as Glinda.
Original director Joe Montello has kept the large cast razor-sharp, just as the original musical stager, Wayne Cilento, has done with the choreography.
Fanciful costumes by Susan Hilferty and ingenious sets by Eugene Lee also come from the original production, as do the sound by Tony Meola and lighting by Kenneth Posner. The fine orchestra is led by music director Andrew Graham.
"Wicked" had its pre-Broadway world premiere at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco in May 2003. It returned to the city in 2005, 2009 and 2013 and has been seen throughout the world.
The capacity crowd in San Jose was buzzing with anticipation as the curtain rose and roaring with appreciation during the large cast's bows.
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