Wicked Whirlwind Whips Through Windy City - Review

The internationally acclaimed smash hit musical Wicked returns for a limited eight-week holiday engagement at the Cadillac Palace Theater in Chicago. Celebrating ten years of Broadway in ChicagoWicked is as bold and splashy as ever.  Prepare to be blown away, pun only slightly intended.

I mean really, Wicked needs no introduction. Since debuting in 2003, Wicked is rapidly on pace to be one of the most successful musicals in history. It has broken ticket sale records in markets around the US and the world. It has won thirty-five major theater and music awards, including Grammy, Tony, and Drama Desk awards in 2004 - 2005. Over two million tickets have been sold to date. If you have heard of it, you already know it’s here.  You may have even seen it already. Twice.

The acclaim is definitely justified, and the pedigree of the production is robust. Music and lyrics are provided by Stephen Schwartz ( Godspell, Disney’s Pocohantas) and book by Winnie Holzman and it is loosely based on the best selling novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire, which is a reimagining of the classic story told in Frank L. Baum’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The 1939 film centers on little Dorothy from Kansas, forced to embark on a great quest in the Land of Oz, pitted against the horrible Wicked Witch of the West as Dorothy simply seeks a way home. Along the way she meets, well you know the story. All "follow the yellow brick road" and "lions and tigers and bears." Oh my! 

Wicked tells a parallel narrative of the history behind the witches in the Land Of Oz, intertweaving with the original story in surprising ways. Wicked conveys a deep and complex relationship between the green-skinned witch Elphaba, cast by the dynamic Jackie Burns, and the “good” witch Glinda, cast by Chandra Lee Schwartz. The story touches on many resonant themes. Elphaba must overcome social stigma, place her trust in those who betray her, cope with loss of family members, stand out against injustice, and even steal her best friends guy, all while struggling to understand her growing power and her place in the world.

Burns capably navigates the emotional range of Elphaba, providing powerful solo performances and standing out in ensemble numbers, though it is certainly worth noting it is extremely difficult avoiding looking at a green woman. It was beautiful and heartbreaking seeing the wicked witch as she is portrayed as a tortured and compassionate soul, scorned by a society she loves enough to want to protect from subversive political forces (I know, pretty deep right?!).  Chandra Lee Schwartz made the shallow diva Glinda endearing though she is a relatively unlikable character. Other standouts included the actually wicked Madame Morrible, cast by the stately Barbara Robertson; the spritely Boq, performed by Justin Brill (who has not surprisingly played Puck in the Met's production of A Midsummer Nights Dream), and the  Wizard of Oz himself, performed by the charming and guileless Gene Weygandt.

A musical is nothing without, well, music, and probably the shining feature of Wicked is its beautiful score. Conductor and Music Director P. Jason Yarcho helmed a brilliant orchestra, bringing the award-winning music of Stephen Schwartz to life. Iconic songs like "Defying Gravity" steal the show certainly, but the perky and playful "Popular" and "A Sentimental Man" contrast beautifully with the somber yet hauntingly beautiful "I'm Not That Girl" or the heartbreaking duo "For Good" which I am not ashamed to say choked me up but good.

Add to that a striking steampunk-inspired stage design, daring special effects, beautifully intricate costumes (which made the flying monkeys as terrifying as I remember them as a child), excellent lighting, efficient and elegant staging and choreography, and  Wicked has all the elements of a fantastic night of theater.

Yes, Wicked is over the top. It’s silly and serious, it has special effects, great song and dance. Yes, it is sometimes also cheesy. Yes, you have to see it. Just heed this warning: Wicked is not for the capricious of heart. Exposure to even one viewing will result in a steadfast desire to see it again and again, to buy the book, the CD, the DVD, the t-shirt, the supplemental literature. You will hum the songs to yourself for days. You will think back to all the first times you sat awe struck as you witnessed the truly amazing. You may even name your next child or beloved family pet  Elphaba (recommended for lizards, snakes, etc.). Yes, it’s really that good.

Wicked performances go from now through January 23 at the Cadillac Palace Theater (151 W Randolph St). Tickets are available at all Broadway in Chicago box offices. See www.broadwayinchicago.com for information on box office locations, or call the Broadway in Chicago Ticket Line at 800-775-2000. Check www.WickedTheMusical.com or www.BroadwayInChicago.com for more information on Wicked and the special promotions running during the Chicago engagement.  Also, be sure to check for information on “Behind the Emerald Curtain”, an up close and personal backstage look at the production.


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