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Barbara B. Mann features ‘Wicked’ performance

By Staff | Mar 19, 2009

“Wicked” was the final offering in the Community Concerts Series for 2009. This big blockbuster musical plays at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall until March 29th.

“Wicked” is not a variation of the Frank Baum novel or even a live rendition of the movie, “Wizard of Oz.” There isn’t any yellow brick road, (except for a few yellow bricks to nowhere), there’s no Dorothy or Toto – not even the glorious Harold Arlen score, with tunes like “Over the Rainbow” or “We’re Off to See the Wizard” – although there are glimpses of Tin Man and the Scare Crow, and we even get a quick squint of Cowardly Lion’s tail. And the magic red shoes are silver in this version.

What was presented was the darker back-story of Oz, that of Glinda, the Good Witch (Helene York), and Elphaba (Marcie Dodd), the Wicked Witch. This plot is the humorous chronicle of how Elphaba, a once-upon-a-time good witch, does a complete 180-degree turn to become Elphaba the Wicked Witch.

This tale is told in flashback, recounting the unlikely friendship between the not-quite-such-a-goodie-two-shoes, blonde, fair skinned, and popular Glinda, and the naturally good, dark-haired, green-skinned, unpopular Elphaba after they meet in a Harry Potter-like boarding school for witches and wizards. That’s about all the story I’m about to divulge; but, rest assured, there are lots of twists and turns, with witches falling in love, and even a sad tale of how a persecuted goat professor (David De Vries) – who can teach, as well as talk – goes about losing both of those rare facilities.

There are two love stories. One involves a fun loving, ne’er-do-well Prince Charming named Fiyero (Colin Donnell), who has both witches fall in love with him; the second is an unrequited love story, recounting how a munchkin named Bog (Ted Ely) eventually became the Tin Man, with a broken heart.

And let’s not forget the back story about the politically, double-dealing Wizard of Oz himself (Tom McGowan) and his equally dishonest cohort, Madame Morrible (Marilyn Caskey), stirring up a witches brew of trouble in the Emerald City (an Oz take on Washington politics).

As you can see this big, lavish musical dares to see Oz from an entirely different angle. And, when I say lavish, I mean just that, starting with the bewitching knock-your-socks off scenery and ending with the extravagant costumes that must have cost gazillions. The special effects, also, are simply awesome making “”Wicked” a spectacular spectacle for all ages and worth the price of admission. So, if a spectacle is your thing, you’ll be in tall cotton.

For me, the fine performances are what I most enjoyed, and “Wicked” is chock-a-block filled to the brim with excellent performers.

Let’s start with rightfully deserved star-billed Marcie Dodd, recreating her Broadway role as Elphaba. Dodd is, in a word, amazing. She performs with supersonic musicality. Her fierce, sky’s-the-limit-singing was literally so, becoming so high-flying that she took off on her broom, bringing down the curtain on the First Act finale – the opening night crowd roaring with delight. She figuratively sets the stage afire, powering through ballads with such gusto, that it’s small wonder she can only be chilled out and then done in by a bucket of cold water. This performer is the real Wiz in this back story of the “Wizard of Oz.”

Helene York is superb. Her glittering soprano and kittenish air work their magic as she traces Glinda’s transformation from ditzy, preppy, sorority-princess witch-without-a-clue to the ice queen witch with an agenda.

Colin Donnell gives a nice poignancy to the switch from vacant, good looking Prince Charming dude, to revolutionary-hero superman. Tom McGowan’s Wizard blossoms with dirty tricks, ending in an all-stops-out vaudeville turn singing “Sentimental Man.” David De Vries is deeply touching as the professor goat.

The cast of singers and dancers are first rate even though I didn’t find Wayne Cleinto’s standard Broadway-styled choreography particularly stylish or memorable. The real weak spot in the show was Stephen Schwartz’s music and lyrics: there were no catchy tunes or big ballads – nothing one could or would wish to memorize or hum. This is where the show clearly lacks some sort of memorable identity, although the players sing and perform this music as though it were the greatest Broadway score ever written – a real testament to their integrity as well as their talents.

If spectacle and razzamatazz production values are your bailiwick then “Wicked” is the show for you. It’s a facetious, campy musical with a bit of brain, a lot of heart, and story adults could take seriously and still giggle about. So ease on down the yellow brick road or, better yet, pick up the phone call the box office at 481-4849 and reserve your seat for a “Wicked” good time.

After this sumptuous production of “Wicked” and the high cost of a single ticket makes the Community Concerts’ ticket price for the entire season – including this show – still the biggest theater bargain in town.

So, be sure to reserve your seat and purchase next season’s tickets as soon as the notice gets to you by mail, because it promises to be even bigger and better season next year. Once again, thanks, Barbara, for another wonderful series of Community Concerts.