On Theater: 'Oz' prequel is 'Wicked'ly entertaining

It's not easy being green. Especially when your college roommate is drop-dead gorgeous with all the cutesy perkiness of Elle Woods from "Legally Blonde."

That's the dilemma facing Elphaba, the future Wicked Witch of the West from "The Wizard of Oz," in the tremendously entertaining and highly engaging musical fantasy "Wicked," now in residence at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

"Wicked" is the green witch's back story — how she got that way and why she was such a pain in the neck when Dorothy touched down in Munchkinland. The story is the brainchild of Winnie Holzman, from Gregory Maguire's novel, and set to scintillating music by noted composer Stephen Schwartz, who also brought us "Godspell" and "Pippin."

"Colorful" doesn't begin to describe this glittering masterwork, here splendidly directed by Joe Mantello against a multi-hued backdrop created by Eugene Lee and featuring the imaginative costuming of Susan Hilferty. The stage is awash in a greenish tint and the voices are, quite simply, out of this world.

Elphaba (derived from the name of "Oz" creator L. Frank Baum) has the misfortune of being born with green skin, thanks to a potion her mother swallowed during an extramarital fling (with whom? Well, wait and see). Nevertheless, she attempts to "fit in" during her formative years, aided by the glittering Glinda who takes her on as a project.

Anne Brummel enacts the sour Elphaba — who's literally green with envy — with enormous flair and flourish, achieving her witchhood in an awesome bit of staging that closes the first act with a huge exclamation point. Brummel is at her best in the second act as she discovers romance in the unlikeliest of circumstances, giving vent to a powerful set of vocal cords.

As the doll-like Glinda, Natalie Daradich pinpoints the shallowness of her character with pride and scores equally well in the singing department. She's a perfect contrast for the green one, and together they present a perfect love-hate relationship, both vying for the attention of the dashing Fiyero (David Nathan Perlow).

Elphaba's handicapped sister, Nessarose, is nicely interpreted by Michelle London, who's staunchly supported by the adoring Boq (an energetic Zach Hanna). The role of the schoolmistress, Madame Morrible, is less sharply defined, but Marilyn Caskey wrings the most out of it.

Then there's the "wonderful" wizard. Tom McGowan excels as the apologetic dictator who hides behind a fearsome facade. Martin Moran also impresses as an instructor who's actually a goat — and deported by an anti-animal regime that Elphaba rightly finds offensive.

Ever wonder how the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion all got that way? "Wicked" explains that as well with some subtle second-act shenanigans. Even the flying monkeys — who soar, Peter Pan-like, around the stage — have an appropriate back story.

"Wicked" is a soaring tribute to childhood tradition that presents familiar characters in a sharply defined new light against a panoply of technical wizardry. Seldom have three hours transpired quite so quickly.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "Wicked"

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays until April 3.

Cost: Tickets start at $38.75

Call: (714) 556-2787

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World