Witches and Singing and Laughter, Oh My! – A Wicked Review

Well, Wicked! was most definitely, wicked. There, got that lame joke out of the way. Not to say the statement isn’t true, it’s very true. Wicked! was wicked. Wicked good, wicked awesome. Just wicked. Okay, we’re done.

Like most children of all different generations, we grew up bewitched by the Wizard of Oz. We sat in awe at the wonderful world of Oz, gasped in terror at the flying monkeys and the witch’s evil cackling laugh, felt the joy of a happy ending. The movie was an important childhood staple, so why it took until its third Toronto run for us to finally see Wicked! on stage at the Canon Theatre, we have no idea. But better late than never.

The story, of course, is a prequel of sorts, detailing the complicated friendship that grew between Glinda the Good Witch of the North and the Wicked Witch of The West when they were forced to share a room in University long before the adventures along the Yellow Brick Road.

Galinda (Chandra Lee Schwartz) – that’s Galinda with a Ga – was your typical perky blond who basked in her popularity and was used to getting everything she wanted, including the most desirable boy at school, Fiyero (Richard H. Blake).

Initially, we had a bit of uncertainty with whether Lee Schwartz would be able to pull off such a role; the opening number did little to draw us to the character. But as things began to progress, Lee Schwartz came into her own and shined brightly as the bubbly Galinda, leaving us in stitches with her comedic, spoiled rich girl persona.

Galinda’s counterpart, Elphaba (Jackie Burns), doesn’t possess any of the standard characteristics of the other students at the school. Elphaba is strange, withdrawn and doesn’t care about fitting in. Not to mention her skin is green and she has this uncontrollable power that demands attention and makes bizarre things happen when she loses her temper.

Burns herself demands attention from the very beginning. Her defiant confidence as the green outcast is a force to be reckoned with, not to mention her powerful voice to match.

The unlikely friendship between the two formed through a series of pranks and guilty acts of kindness and was secured the moment Galinda decided she would do everyone a favour and give Elphaba a makeover so she can also be popular (but not as popular as her, of course).

Cue the love triangle with Fiyero (who is drawn to both Galinda’s beauty and Elphaba’s passion for the cause), Galinda’s failed attempt to impress him by denouncing the Ga from her name (leaving her as plain ol’ Glinda, the Ga is now silent) and a disastrous trip to see the Wizard that crushes Elphaba’s dreams and leaves her feeling betrayed.

It’s at this point you witness the climactic Defying Gravity number, which is easily the best scene in the play (and not just because it’s the only tune we were really familiar with – thanks Glee). Elphaba seals her fate, realizing everything she is capable of and makes the defining decision to flee the Emerald city, begging Glinda to come with her. But Glinda cannot resist the call of popularity that rebuilding the morale among the citizens of Oz will give her, an act that will appoint her Glinda the Good. Elphaba goes into hiding, leaving her name to be plagued by the label of the Wicked Witch of the West – for every hero must have a villain.

Unfortunately, there is little that can be said for the supporting cast. While the performances aren’t bad, they seem to fall a little flat. While the confident yet conflicted Fiyero is the man both Glinda and Elphaba desire, we felt he lacked that spark that usually has us swooning over any male lead. And even though the Wizard (Gene Weygandt) was supposed to be a weak and slimy character, the performance seemed a little two dimensional, although the booming robot acting as the Wizard’s front was rather striking. Thankfully, neither Lee Schwartz or Burns needed much support in carrying this show, their chemistry was blazing right from the beginning.

The story is heavy with political undertones and issues, providing substance among the passionate songs. And we certainly love how the past and the present are thrust together as Wicked! overlaps with the Wizard of Oz and elaborates on the history of some of the pivotal characters from the movie.

What was most impressive, however, is the way that a simple back story and a spin on your previous assumptions can change your perception and leave you sympathetic to a Wicked Witch that you grew up hating.

Wicked! is most likely sold out at this point, its brief run ending at the end of the month. But with its growing success, it will be back.

Images from google images and official websites.