It's only after about the third viewing of the hit musical "Wicked" that you begin to realize that, in addition to the show's brilliantly conceived special effects and razzle-dazzle showmanship, it's also a fiendishly clever concoction.
Creators Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics) and Winnie Holzman (book) have seamlessly woven elements from their new show into the timeless classic "The Wizard of Oz" to create a magnificent blend of song, story and parody. It all unfolds in a superlative production at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.
It's the third time around at the Center for "Wicked," and director Joe Mantello has mounted a lavish rendition of this "back story" of the witches featured in the original "Oz." References to that 1939 movie abound as we learn how Elphaba became "wicked" and how she and Glinda, the good witch, actually were BFFs from college where they were improbable roommates — and where the emerald-hued Elphaba discovers that it's not easy being green.
The college scenes serve to establish another plot line — Elphaba's furious support of animal rights — which triggers her ultimate decision after a college professor who's actually a goat is relieved of his duties by those who believe animals belong, mutely, in cages.
Dee Roscioli has played Elphaba in more performances than any other actress over the past decade, and her tremendous vocal power is one of the reasons why. Her soaring voice is prominent in the first-act closer, "Defying Gravity," and the richly ironic "No Good Deed" in the second act.
Her opposite number, originally called Galinda ("with a 'Ga'"), normally is played by Patti Murin, but her illness brought understudy Cassie Okenka into the spotlight at Thursday's opening performance. And Okenka is luminous as the gorgeous goddess (think Elle Woods from "Legally Blonde") who takes time from her self-worship to help the ostracized Elphaba become "Popular."
Both are enamored of the new guy at school, Fiyero (Clifton Hall), who's also rather fond of his own image. Hall's strutting and posing enhances a rather vapid character, and his eventual choice solidifies the story.
Tom McGowan's wizard is a comedic treat, highlighted in his duet with Roscioli, entitled "Wonderful." The real showstopper, however, is Kim Zimmer as Madame Morrible, an unfamiliar character from "Oz" legend but unforgettable as a force-of-nature headmistress.
A romance between Elphaba's handicapped sister (Demaree Hill) and a Munchkin (Justin Brill) provides some secondary interest, particularly when their eventual fates are revealed. Clifton Davis' goatish Doctor Dillamond also makes a fine impression.
The principal players, but mainly Zimmer, are afflicted with malapropism, slight mispronunciation of certain words (extending to a banner reading "congratulotions"). It's an effective comic touch rendered by Holzman's exceptionally literate script.
The "Wicked" orchestra, under conductor Andrew Graham's baton with William David Brohn's terrific orchestrations, is a vital force in the production. Eugene Lee's colorful settings and Susan Hilferty's richly defined costumes provide atmospheric excellence.
"Wicked" (subtitled "The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz") has been a prime ticket attraction since its Broadway debut a decade ago and should be front-and-center for many years to come, perhaps even in a movie version, since "Les Miserables" has become a cinematic blockbuster. It reigns gloriously through March 17 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.
If You Go
Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays through March 17
Cost: Tickets start at $44.50
Information: (714) 556-2787 or http://www.scfta.org