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Wicked - A Wicked Good Time!

By Fayeruz Barbari

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I'll cut to the chase. Wicked is the best play I've ever seen. And I've seen them all, from Grease on Broadway to Shakespeare in an East L.A. back alley. At the swanky and gilded Pantages theatre, I saw faces lit in a childlike glow. Eyes were wide, mouths were slightly open, and each song ended with a thundering applause. 

This clever, modern spin on a classic tale enjoys poking fun at old-fashioned character portrayals. In old movies, the pretty girl was the good one and of course, ugly people were evil.  In Wicked, Glinda's an airheaded ego-maniac, manipulating the minds of munchkins who adore her. Elphaba, more popularly known as 'The Wicked Witch of the West,' was picked on in sorcery school for having green skin and being too political.

The cast gave every ounce of energy they had, literally radiating it from the stage.  Kendra Kassebaum, who portrayed Glinda, was a bonafide scene stealer. As a bubbly young witch in training, she wore all-white, ('good'), miniskirted outfits, and was escorted to school in a carriage.  Always scheming to have the entire Land of Oz worship her, she sashayed and high-kicked her way into my heart. Did I mention that all this sashaying and kicking didn't even take place during the songs? I must mention she belted out tunes with a crystal clear voice.

Stephanie J. Block, who played Elphaba, did an excellent job portraying this complex and not-so-wicked witch.  Politically minded, she had a dream to meet the great Wizard and reverse the maladies of the Kingdom. One issue regarded the animals in the Land of Oz. They were slowly losing their freedom and ability to speak, (which apparently is the norm there). Goats and monkeys alike were being held down by the powers that be, and the only reason Elphaba was regarded as 'wicked', was because she sought to overturn these opressors.

Winnie Holzman, the Tony-nominated writer for Wicked did a fine job creating witty banter between well-orchestrated songs. Her characters were armed with clever quips. Elphaba, dismayed at the fact Dorothy had made out with the ruby slippers, quoted, 'Ugh! Only a typical farm girl would steal shoes off a dead woman!' Holzman was sensitive to paricular unsolved mysteries in the Land of Oz, and took it upon herself to explain them. Case in point, what's the big deal about those ruby slippers and why did the witch want them so bad? Why is there a man made of tin, and why does he drone on about needing a heart? She goes on to shock audiences with the true story of the brainless Scarecrow, who actually served as a double-agent.

The set was other-worldly, which I guess in this case is necessary. I'd hardly be surprised if the set designers were inspired by Disney's Fantasia, with spooky shaded trees, wipsy smoke, and glowing rain effects that mirrored a meteor shower. Glinda floated though the skies on a giant bubble wand that thrust a sea of soapy spheres onto the stage and audience. Elphaba preferred the standard flying broomstick. Top it with with flying monkeys, and you've got a real show!

This was a baroque production, flanked by energetic dancers, complex characters, a peppy music score, and the talented Carol Kane as a devious sorcerer. Yet the story's focus is on Elphaba and Glinda. Their relationship long, and troubles many. Regardless of their diametrically opposed views, and years worth of drama, boyfriend-stealing and backstabbing, Glinda and Elphaba were best friends. They loved eachother. I could feel the tears welling as the story came full circle,  and the play ended the way it should have; with a standing ovation.

Published on Dec 31, 1969

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