(Published in The News Mirror)
before Dorothy and Toto drop into Munchkinland, two young women meet at
Shiz University in the northern province of Oz. Glinda, blonde, and so
pretty and popular that she’s quite vain, has such innate goodness that
her narcissism is amusing and forgivable. Elphaba, on the other hand,
has been shunned all her life because she happened to be born green.
The two women instantly dislike each other and are horrified when they’re forced to become roommates. The animosity grows worse when Glinda falls in love. Fiyero is an admired Vinkus prince of Winkie Country, and his arrival on campus is celebrated with fanfare by an adoring audience. Glinda decides to marry him, only he becomes smitten with the serious, green-skinned Elphaba, whose campus life is consumed with studies, her love of animals, and her responsibilities to her wheel-chair-bound sister, Nessarose.
In a moment of jealousy, Glinda gives Elphaba an old, discarded pointed hat to wear to the school dance, assuring her it’s the height of fashion. But when Elphaba arrives wearing a long skirt and the hat, our first glimpse beyond the green skin of the witch-figure she’ll become, she’s shunned and ridiculed. She pretends to ignore the mockery, but Glinda knows how hurt she truly is and feels guilty and ashamed for her first unkind act. She makes amends and the two women warm to each other and become best friends, loyal to each other beyond popularity and skin color.
Their friendship and how one becomes the Good Witch of the North and the other the Wicked Witch of the West, is the theme of Wicked, the award-winning smash musical hit now playing at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood.
Adapted from the best-selling novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire, which, in turn was based on L. Frank Baum's story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the play breaks box office records where it appears. Since it opened on Broadway in 2003, it has won many awards, including the Tony in several categories, a Fan’s Choice, and even a Grammy. It has toured Toronto, England, Germany, and Japan.
I was treated to the award-winning play last Wednesday evening, a birthday present from my son, Roger. I still love the old childhood books and movies, so I was looking forward to the performance, but I had no idea of how entranced I would be.
The Pantages Theater is an experience. Recently it underwent a major restoration before the L.A. run of The Lion King, bringing back the marvelous art deco work that had been covered by years of neglect. From the huge lobby to the red velvet chairs in the auditorium and the mezzanine, the theater recaptures the glitz and feel of the old Hollywood. Dress is your choice. I saw suits and dresses as well as slacks and trousers, so I’d suggest wearing what you’d normally wear to go out to dinner.
Once seated, we all waited in anticipation while the theater filled to capacity. Before us on stage was a huge beige screen with a map of Oz. Centered above the screen, a winged dragon with red glowing eyes glowered at the audience. The kid in me shivered in delight.
I didn’t know the cast, only JoAnne Worley from her Laugh-In days, and John Rubinstein. She plays the university’s headmistress, and John Rubinstein is the wizard. I didn’t know the two stars who became the witches, but each gave such a magnificent performance that I won’t forget them. And each has a beautiful singing voice. Some of the vocals are soft and tender, but Teal Wicks, who plays Elphaba the wicked witch, has some memorable strong vocals, especially “Defying Gravity” at the close of Act 1, that I wonder how she manages to perform each day. Perhaps that’s why there have been periodically changes in cast members.
Ms Wicks is a California native, graduating with a degree in Drama and honors in Musical Theater from UC Irvine. Erin Mackey, a Fullerton native, also played Glinda in Wicked’s Chicago company for two years, and she’s perfect for the role.
I sat spellbound during the entire first act, laughing at times at Glinda’s dialogue, weeping unashamedly at the close of the first act when Elphaba rises to power. The scenery was magnificent, and the entire cast and crew created an unforgettable performance from the quiet landscape under the bridge to thunderous lighting and the dazzling effects at the end of the first act.
And, when the cast exists the building at the stage door in back, they sign autographs and pose for photos.
If you have any interest in seeing this multi-award-winning play, don’t delay too long. They announced April 1, 2008 that the production would close on January 11, 2009.
Recommended for ages 8 and up, but I doubt anyone younger than a mature teenager would enjoy the storyline.
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