If you're a fan of
— and since 2003 there have been plenty of you — the touring production camped at the
for the next few weeks will surely raise your appreciation of the show
If you're not a fan, well you probably can't be won over — but you might be surprised to leave the theater with a new grudging respect for this musical alternative look at the principal witches of "The Wizard of Oz."
In other words, if you have a wish to watch "Wicked," this is the production to see.
That's due to the cast, especially the powerhouse duo in the leading roles of Glinda (Chandra Lee Schwartz) and Elphaba, the future Wicked Witch of the West (Jackie Burns).
Yes, "Wicked" is all the things its detractors say. It's loud (on Thursday night sometimes too loud), brash, loaded with cheap tricks: There's a dragon breathing smoke, a curtain that glitters, bubbles, streamers shooting into the audience — and that's just in the first five minutes.
It's easy for performers to get lost among the barrage of spectacle — ooh, look, flying monkeys! — but Schwartz and Burns not only possess technically superior voices, they have solid acting chops, too.
Schwartz's Glinda is much more than a shallow airhead, shown by her poise and expressions in the opening scene, and she makes a nuanced progression from giggly makeover queen in the wildly funny "Popular" to sober caretaker of her people by play's end. She's a Glinda who holds her own with the usually showier role of Elphaba.
As Elphaba, Burns undergoes a similar transformation, full of girlish enthusiasm at the thought the Wizard could "de-greenify" her skin early on, but resolutely resigned to her fate by the final moments of the show. Her last line of the spectacularly staged "Defying Gravity" goes from a defiant growl — "and
in all of Oz" — to a triumphant battle cry "is
gonna bring me down!"
Burns and Schwartz even make the sudden (and completely unrealistic) friendship of the young witches believable in Winnie Holzman's haphazard adaptation of Gregory Maguire's novel. The story hinges on that friendship, explaining how what generations of readers and movie watchers
they know about the land of Oz may not exactly be true.
The leading ladies are ably supported by Colin Hanlon, who adds a layer of longing to the dashing goof-off Fiyero that makes his later emotional transformation more believable; and Randy Danson, a deliciously malevolent Madame Morrible.
Only Mark Jacoby of the principal performers underplays his part so his evil practicality, expressed in such sentiments as "the way to bring people together is to give them a really good enemy" doesn't have any bite.
There are problems the cast can't hide. Among his catchy melodies,
has saddled the actors with some clunky lyrics and forced rhymes (sorry, rhyming "paws" with "pause" is a cop-out). And the play's muddled ways of tying its characters to Dorothy's companions seem more like plot shorthand than emotional storytelling.
But Susan Hilferty's costumes are still delightfully off-kilter and Kenneth Posner's vibrant lighting sets the mood and emphasizes Elphaba's flashing eyes and toothy smile. And that cast finds something among all the bombast that a gargantuan set piece, ear-busting sound and, yes, even a smoke-breathing dragon can't create: heart.
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See for yourself
Florida Theatrical Association touring production of 'Wicked'
Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, 401 W. Livingston St.,
8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays; through March 27
$37-$150; some $25 tickets are available by lottery on the day of the show. Arrive at the Carr box office 2 1/2 hours before showtime to enter the lottery.