The Wicked Express has arrived in Minneapolis for a 5 week stay (at the Orpheum, 910 Hennepin Ave., through Sept 19,hennepintheatretrust.org). Still going strong on Broadway (after 7 years), Wicked boasts two U.S. tours, strong runs in London, San Francisco, Osaka and Germany, upcoming productions in Australia and Finland. Plus, naturally, a film. This makes it one of the most popular musical comedies in history – as amply evidenced by the wild enthusiasm of the opening night crowd at the Orpheum.
Kudos to composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz, book writer Winnie Holzman and director Joe Mantello. They read Gregory Maguire‘s rendering of The Wizard Of Oz backstory and understood that there was a Broadway story lurking amidst the dense and lyrical prose. They concocted a compelling story about love, friendship and a green-skinned girl who discovers her inner wickedness. They composed some soaringly tuneful music – “For Good”, “Dancing Through Life”, etc. Thus the material became, unexpectedly, a super-successful musical.
A churlish critic with poor digestion (which I am not) might point out that Schwartz and Holzman take huge liberties with the weird but fascinating story, that they steal shamelessly from the classic film, that most of the music is pure feel-good. But such a critic would find himself squashed like a worm under the gleaming steel wheels of the Wicked Express.
Instead I’ll point out that the performances in this touring show (the second) are first rate. The leads, Natalie Daradich as Glinda and (especially) Vicki Noon as the green-skinned Elphaba carry the play effortlessly, singing gorgeously, discovering rich drama as well as comedy. Noon makes the transition from earnest student to witchiness with assurance. Also good are Chris Peluso as Fiyero; he goes from shallow rich-boy to “deeply shallow” commander of the Wizard’s Guards with utter conviction. And he sings brilliantly. Kristine Reese (from Burnsville)’s Nessarose bursts with real power. And I have to mention the great Don Amendolia, whose friendly roly-poly-ness as the Wizard belies a vicious hunger for power. Fabulous.
And then there’s the now-famous song “Defying Gravity” which ends Act 1 with astonishing theatricality: flying, smoke, whirling gobos and follow-spots (let’s hear it for lighting designer Kenneth Posner) and amazing music. If ever a moment were worth the price of admission, this is it.
So climb aboard the Wicked Express.
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