Last here almost exactly two years ago, Broadway juggernaut "Wicked" is back, dragon still snarling, witches still flying and monkeys still screeching.
Except for minor restaging, the show remains essentially unchanged. In fact, it runs like clockwork — both the strength and weakness of "Wicked."
Like a child of the huge productions of the 1980s — "Phantom of the Opera," "Miss Saigon" and their ilk — "Wicked" burst onto Broadway in 2003. It was spectacle for a new generation, and it struck a chord.
Written by Winnie Holzman with music by Stephen Schwartz, "Wicked" still packs in crowds in New York. It's now the 12th longest-running Broadway show, frequently breaking box-office records.
It has built-in familiarity — the show is based on Gregory Maguire's best-selling novel, which in turn is based on L. Frank Baum's "The Wizard of Oz." And audiences respond to the visual magnitude; in Orlando, applause broke out at the top of the show when the mechanical dragon started to move.
But I would attribute its staying power to the simple fact that the world loves an underdog — especially one who stands up for what is right, not what is popular. We all wish we could be as brave as Elphaba, who had the misfortune of being born green. "Wicked" traces her journey along with that of her "frenemy" Glinda, as the women discover the evil truth about the so-called "wonderful" Wizard who runs their country of Oz.
The danger with "Wicked" is it's so easy to lose the emotional connection to the characters when they are swamped by the massive set and the elaborate costumes.
In the leading roles, Christine Dwyer and Jeanna de Waal have to provide the humanity amid the smoke and mirrors — and they just about pull it off.
De Waal's Glinda has a modern vibe, and she gets deserved laughs from her opening: "It's good to see me, isn't it?" Her Glinda isn't as prissy as some, which makes her more likeable but also diminishes her transition from shallow to steely by play's end.
Dwyer has a wonderful way with Elphaba, giving such a deadpan reading to her sarcastic retorts and bitter asides that her pain and loneliness shine through. She thrills the audience with a powerhouse "Defying Gravity," but her joy- and hope-filled "Wizard and I" is a showstopper as well.
Dwyer loses the battle against the production's mechanics though, in a completely overblown "As Long as You're Mine," meant to be a love song. She and Billy Harrigan Tighe, as her beau, are blasted with fog, striking theatrical pose after pose on cue as percussion booms from the speakers.
Almost nearly as ridiculous: The pivotal "No Good Deed," in which Dwyer's rage-infused singing can't mask the fact she's trapped between two wind machines so her cape will billow.
The show opens with the lyrics "No one mourns the wicked." No one mourns the subtle, either.
• What: Touring production of the Broadway musical
• Length: 2:45, including intermission
• When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays, through March 10
• Where: Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, 401 W. Livingston St., Orlando
• Tickets: $47.50 and up
• Call: 1-800-448-6322
• Online: OrlandoBroadway.com