Alyssa Fox & Carrie St. Louis in Wicked.
Photo by Joan Marcus
Book by Winnie Holzman
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Directed by Joe Mantello
Review by Kathi E. B. Ellis
Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Kathi E. B. Ellis. All rights reserved.
It’s been three years since the Broadway Series has brought Wicked to Louisville and last night’s performance is a testament to why a well-executed, high quality Broadway touring production is an important component to a city’s theatrical universe. Three years ago all of the moving parts were, well…moving, and yet the production was merely a well-oiled machine.
This tour is the second national tour, and the current performers don’t let all those moving parts (scenic design, Eugene Lee) overwhelm the very human aspects of the story that have made Baum’s characters loved for more than a century – in whatever iteration they’re encountered. From the opening moments when the as-yet wingless monkeys swarm the proscenium to Elphaba’s final exit, this ensemble delivers high-energy precision and passion.
Wicked, of course, is calibrated around Elphaba and Glinda. Alyssa Fox and Carrie St. Louis, respectively, are well matched as actors and singers, finding the humor and poignancy alike in their journeys. It’s clear the show is in good hands from St. Louis’ opening number ‘No One Mourns the Wicked’ as she effortlessly bubbles out Glinda’s confection of sparkling high notes. And Fox navigates the tricky act one monologue numbers equally effortlessly, holding the audience’s attention so that we are more than ready to soar with her in the impressive act one finale ‘Defying Gravity’.
The role of Fiyero is underwritten; his switch from callow youth to would-be revolutionary is unsatisfactorily developed in the script. Jake Boyd’s performance, however, papers over such dissatisfactions and provides a worthy foil to both Elphaba and Glinda as their relationships develop. Boyd’s transformation (spoiler alert) from upstanding soldier to the Scarecrow is physically delightful.
Madame Morrible (Wendy Worthington) is lusciously louche; Doctor Dillamond (Chad Jennings) embodies both the physicality and the heartbreak of the goat teacher; and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Stuart Zagnit) is dangerously jovial. Nessarose is another underwritten role, but Liana Hunt finds some subtle notes that lift the character’s journey from merely cliché. Lee Slobotkin’s Boq elicits the appropriate level of sympathy from the audience.
The ensemble of sixteen performers transform between citizens, students, monkeys, soldiers, and more, inhabiting Oz and its Emerald City so that it feels like there are more than double that number of characters. Susan Hilferty’s colorful, quirky, Steampunk-infused costume creations add to that illusion. This palette is complemented by lighting designer Keith Posner’s highly-saturated color choices.
The third offering in the current Broadway Series season, Wicked is the most successful of this season’s offerings so far. Cinderella is a slender offering from the robust Rogers and Hammerstein canon, and Dirty Dancing is, essentially, the movie morphed awkwardly into three dimensions. Yes, Wicked’s production elements are impressive and fantastical; this company of performers inhabits this environment on equal terms, peopling the stage with panache and relishing the larger-than-life qualities of all the characters.
Wicked is still not my favorite musical; I still find much of the storytelling awkward and obvious – interspersed with occasional inspired backstory: the genesis of the Tin Man and the Scarecrow, for example. Context, however, is everything. Hearing these stories of otherness and exclusion, of fear mongering, of whipping up the masses, at a time when our world is struggling to make sense of a refugee crisis and recent terrorist attacks across the world, Wicked made a more profound connection with me this time. A potent reminder that theatre has the potential to be a lens through which we interpret our world.
November 18 – December 6, 2015
PNC Broadway In Louisville
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40204
Kathi E.B. Ellis is a member of the Lincoln Center and Chicago Directors’ Labs and an associate member of the Stage Directors & Choreographers Society. She has attended the LaMama Directing Symposium in Umbria, Italy, and is featured in Southern Artisty, an online registry of outstanding Southern Artists. Her directing work has been recognized with nominations for the South Florida Theatre Carbonell Award. Locally, Kathi is a member of Looking for Lilith Theatre Company, a founding principal of StageLab theatre training studio, and is part of ShoeString Productions an informal producing collective. She has written book reviews and articles for Southern Theatre, the quarterly publication of the Southeastern Theatre Conference, and was a contributing writer for JCPS’ textbook for the 11th grade Arts and Humanities survey course and for YouthArts Tapestry, a Kentucky Arts Council publication.