Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Book by Winnie Holzman. Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Thursday, June 2. Continues until June 26
Wicked is all about how we should look beyond appearances, but appearances are a big part of what the show has to offer. The costumes in this production are dazzling, and there are some excellent performances, but the book is thin and the music sucks.
The musical is based on Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, in which he turns The Wizard of Oz inside out, making the story sympathetic to Elphaba, his title character.
The lesson here is that it isn’t easy being green (as Elphaba is) and we shouldn’t be cruel to people who are different (as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, is to Elphaba, at least at first.) It’s a simple, familiar moral and Wicked never gets tired of preaching it.
So that’s boring, but not as boring as the score, which repeats motifs all over the place but never finds a memorable melody. And there are more lung-busting crescendos here than in a double episode of American Idol.
But, as I said, there are things to like—even love. Natalie Daradich’s performance as Glinda goes to the top of my list. Her portrait is a phenomenal combination of size and precision. Daradich is an outrageous clown who never puts a foot out of place and finds hilarious colour in almost every word. Just wait till you hear how she gargles popular.
She does have an odd advantage: Glinda is a more interesting character than Elphaba, who is supposedly the centre of the show. That’s partly because Glinda’s narcissism is an unleashed appetite, which is always funny, but also because Glinda’s moral development is more interesting than that of her avocado-toned buddy.
Here, Anne Brummel makes a solid Elphaba. She’s got the pipes to blast it out of the park when she sings “Defying Gravity” and other showstoppers. And she deftly reveals the character’s vulnerability. But she doesn’t dazzle, and Idina Menzel won the 2004 Tony Award for best actress in the role, so apparently it is possible.
Jody Gelb is wonderfully camp as Madame Morrible, the headmistress of the school our young witches attend, and David Nathan Perlow is seductively relaxed as Fiyero, their common love interest.
Images of Susan Hilferty’s costumes will stay burned on my retinas for days. Her Oz looks like a psychedelic version of Victorian England: huge bustles, and sometimes even the men wear long skirts. There’s lots of asymmetry, kinetic hats, and detailing up the spine. Eugene Lee’s touring sets are impressive and Kenneth Posner’s lighting is the real thing.
If only this musical had music to fill it up.
A word of warning: if you want to buy tickets, don’t get sucked in by the scalper sites. Use www.ticketmaster.ca/.