Friday, November 7, 2014

Theater Review: Wicked -- The Bushnell

Kara Lindsay and Laurel Harris. Photo: Joan Marcus
Twist in Oz’s Yellow Brick Road Leads to Wickedly Fun Time at the Theater
By Lauren Yarger
So you think you know the story of the “Wizard of Oz,” do you? Well think again.

The second national tour of Wicked, playing and extended run at The Bushnell, takes the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, Good Witch Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the West (a.k.a. Elphaba) on a trip down the yellow brick road that’s probably very different from the L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz” you know and love. Unless of course you are one of the more than 8 million people who already have seen the musical sensation since it first hit Broadway in 2003. . .

If you are, then you’ll know that the Tony-Award-winning Wicked, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Pippin, Godspell), with a book by Winnie Holzman based on Gregory Maguire’s bestselling novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West tells the untold, backstory of the witches of Oz.

Elphaba (Laurel Harris) and Glinda (Kara Lindsay) meet when they are thrown together as roommates at Shiz University where both hope to study sorcery. Bubbly, popular and very blonde Glinda and outcast, green Elphaba, who is hated by her father and given a place at Shiz only to take care of her more beloved crippled sister Nessarose (Jenny Fellner), quickly enter a state of “Loathing.”

Headmistress Madame Morrible (Kathy Fitzgerald) sees potential in Elphaba’s magical power, however, and suggests that the Wizard himself (Gene Weygant) might take an interest in her instruction. The girls find themselves liking each other in spite of their differences and form a bond of friendship that can’t be broken, even when both are attracted to Fiyero (Matt Shingledecker), a handsome prince, who also is a student at Shiz.

Things aren’t right in Oz, though, as Elphaba realizes that animals, including her favorite instructor and goat, Doctor Dillamond (Michael Devries), are treated as second-class citizens and being denied the right to speak. Elphaba’s efforts to help keep the animals free and Glinda’s attempt to rid herself of the unwanted affections of munchkin Boq (Lee Slobotkin) by setting him up with Nessarose result in chaos, flying monkeys and life-changing decisions.

The musical is presented on a large scale with sets designed by Eugene Lee (lighted by Kenneth Posner) and special effects designed by Chic Silber. To give you an idea of the scope, each performance uses about 200 pounds of dry ice for fog effect, the electrical department needs between four and five miles of cable to operate, the show uses 70 wigs per performance (designed by Tom Watson), all made of human hair, and made individually for each actor, using their own hairline in the front. The elaborate, colorful costumes (designed by Susan Hilferty) use 179 different types and finishes of leather in shoes, gloves, hats and costume trim.

Joe Mantello directs the large ensemble through their paces with Musical Staging by Wayne Cilento. Nine local musicians join the traveling orchestra of five under the Musical Direction by P. Jason Yarcho to play the terrific score, which includes fan favorites “Popular,” “Defying Gravity,” “As Long as You’re Mine” and “For Good.” Yarcho is fun to watch as he thoroughly enjoys conducting the score.

Vocals here are good, particularly Harris who does the required belting that defies gravity (though the sound designed by Tony Meola isn’t mixed well, so she often is drowned out by the orchestra). Lindsay boasts a high soprano, but teases a bit too much out of Glinda’s blonde dialog giving her a harsh, rather than bubble-headed tone.  Weygandt, Fitzgerald and Devries bring polish to the characters they played in the Broadway production.

If you haven’t seen a production of Wicked, this tour is a good place to start your voyage down the yellow brick road. There is more here than just a children’s story, like great lyrics and messages about not fitting in, tolerating alternative opinions, the definition of truth and looking at things differently.

If you have seen it on Broadway, the tour lacks a bit of the original magic, but still is enjoyable. (recommended for children age 8 and up).

Wicked runs at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford, through Nov, 23. Performances are 

Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 pm and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 pm and 6:30 pm. Tickets $57.50-$157.50. www.bushnell.org860-860-987-5900.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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