Wicked at the Orpheum Theater

Wicked touring photo

Is there any point, really, in reviewing “Wicked”?

By now, everyone’s seen it, loved it, hated it, or made up their minds after simply hearing about it and/or reading someone else’s review.  Why write another one?

The children—you say.  Think of the children.  Future generations.  Minnesotans yet born who will someday take this important step in the life of a music-theater fan.  For their sake, man, you must push on.

“The children” were out in force on opening night last Friday at The Orpheum Theatre on Hennepin Avenue.  They cheered, they laughed, they applauded—generally, they were having a great time—though there were a few pointed silences, especially in the second act, when the show’s

creators have a harder time keeping the unruly train of Gregory Maguire’s novel on the more streamlined tracks they’ve laid down for it.

For those of you unfamiliar with “Wicked”—never mind, no one who reads this blog will be unfamiliar with “Wicked”—let’s skip ahead.  The show’s most clever choice remains its most powerful:  focusing the novel, which really does have a multitude of tracks, the kind of tangents novels were made for—on the relationship between Glinda The Good Witch, and Elphaba, Maguire’s name for the woman we all know as “The Wicked Witch of The West”.

The complicated friendship and rivalry of these two girls as they move from a vague scholastic age into adulthood is the show’s trump card—so much so I found myself wishing they’d discarded even more of the novel’s side plots.  It’s clearly this friendship that the youngsters in the audience (mostly girls) were responding to (as were the family members who brought them—mostly, it seemed, mothers and grandmothers).  Ironically, when the show employs tricks better suited to The Wizard—by which I mean not only the lavish special effects but the occasional gratuitous belting—it’s far less effective than the simple scenes between its two main characters, especially as played, in this case, by two very talented actors.

 Alison Luff’s Elphaba does indeed have an impressive set of pipes—but neither her belting nor the near apocalyptic ending of Act One can compare to the small moment when she comes rushing onstage for the first time, poignantly eager and optimistic about starting school despite her social awkwardness, and, well, green skin.  Jenn Gambatese’s Glinda starts off a little too pushy and overbearing (as if the actor, not the character, were constantly selling us)—but once she relaxes into the evening, she’s terrific.  Both women shine in the lengthy (longest?) Act One scene that leads into “Popular”, reminding you that book writer Winnie Holzman is the creator of  “My So-Called Life”, one of the best teen angst shows television has ever seen.  It’s the one scene in which the score really lives up to the charm of the script.  You wish for more human moments like this, but they never come.

But, really, this is like arguing with the ocean.  Sure, the writers’ lack of interest in Boq and Nessarose is so extreme you wonder why they bothered; reworking Maguire’s darker take on the Wizard back to the lovable buffoon of the movie is a huge miscalculation; the girls’ 11 o’clock paean to friendship, “For Good” is neither musically nor lyrically up to everything the book’s put them through; and Elphaba’s climactic “What happened to those moneys is my fault!” doesn’t pack quite the punch the creator’s might hope for—but teens and preteens—especially girls—are hungry for seeing their stories onstage—starving, even—and will continue to make this show a juggernaut.

Who am I to judge?

How Was the Show for You?

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