An election-year return to Oz finds the hit musical packing an extra punch
Reviewed by Jillian Owens, Fri., Feb. 3, 2012
WickedBass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman, 471-2787
Through Feb. 12
Running time: 2 hr., 45 min.
Oz was an adolescent fascination of mine. I begged for ruby slippers at age 4, sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" at 9, synched Pink Floyd to the classic film at 13, and obsessed over the Broadway musical Wicked at 15.
L. Frank Baum's turn-of-the-century tale of brains, heart, and courage has worked its way into our national psyche, surfacing nowhere as spectacularly as in Wicked, a reimagining that chronicles the pre-Dorothy friendship of the witches of Oz. If you're unfamiliar with this 2003 adaptation, you haven't been paying attention; with music by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Winnie Holzman, Wicked has found that there's no place like pop culture. Its soundtrack has sold more than 2 million copies, and the original cast's leading witches Kristin Chenoweth (Glinda) and Idina Menzel (Elphaba, or the Wicked Witch of the West) have soaked up prime-time coverage on Fox's popular television series Glee.
The second national tour of the show comes with the bells and whistles you'd see on the Great White Way, especially fabulous, flamboyant costumes by Susan Hilferty, a stunning, ever-ticking, clock-themed set by Eugene Lee, and lurid lighting by Kenneth Posner. The touring cast manages to inch out of the original cast's shadows; Tiffany Haas plays Glinda with a remarkable emotional range, and Anne Brummel gives Elphaba a refreshing femininity. Haas and Brummel have powerful onstage chemistry, charming the audience with physical comedy and an exceptionally good vocal blend. The ensemble lends support with an airtight performance, though Catherine Charlebois as Elphaba's sister Nessarose (the slipper-wearing witch Dorothy lands on) and Dan Pacheco as her munchkin beau Boq steal the stage in the second act. I think it's safe to say that the euphoric, largely female audience packed into Bass Concert Hall last Thursday night loved every wonderous minute of the performance.
Though I initially felt pretty angsty about revisiting my Oz phase, I was surprised to find myself on the edge of my seat, noticing a deep political dimension I hadn't considered seriously before. In Wicked, the portly, grey-haired Wizard of Oz (Don Amendolia) is a not-so-wonderful politician who has become so hooked on power that he fabricates a common enemy to rally fearful Ozians behind him. "The truth is not a thing of fact or reason," he chortles. "The truth is just what everyone agrees on." Before you dismiss Wicked, keep in mind that this musical is more than just smoke and mirrors. For me, this election-year tour packed an extra punch.