It’s easy to forget how ‘major’ a major Broadway production can be. But one must only make a two-hour drive to see Broadway in the south. Once there, take a seat and stare at the stage to be reminded what’s in store.
During the recent run of Wicked at the fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta, the proscenium held muted gray framework, cogs, clocks, and towers, and a map of Oz with a large metal dragon on top. Even with the curtain closed, viewers were prepared for the production’s entire look – otherworld industrial. Once the curtain opened, the stage and costumes did not disappoint.
Set in the time before Dorothy and Toto leave Kansas in the Wizard of Oz, Wicked tells the story of Elphaba, the green witch better known as The Wicked Witch of the West. That’s what the show deals with, how Elphaba came into being, and how she became known as wicked.
It’s a revisionist story, a musical based on the book by Gregory Maguire, a former Hambidge Art Center resident. As entertaining as it is, be warned: the show forever changes one’s perception of the witches and wizard of Oz.
Early in the action, Glinda (the Good Witch) asks, “Are people born wicked, or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?” Her query forms the basis of the play. To answer it, viewers witness Elphaba’s conception, her formative years at a Hogwarts-type school, and the smear campaign that forever tags her ‘wicked.’
The story is a riveting twist, and the drama and lyrics could not be tighter or better written. Woven throughout the dialogue are comic mispronunciations that give a flaw to the self-righteous speakers. Elphaba, however, never makes one.
What she does instead is belt out songs like “The Wizard and I,” “I’m Not That Girl,” and “Defying Gravity.” The songs show incredible emotional range from hope to despair to triumph. The lyrics, performance, and staging sizzle.
In large part that’s due to Dee Roscioli. When she takes the stage as Elphaba, the audience lets out a rock-star roar: she’s that popular. Roscioli is striking, especially green. She can sing non-stop for fifteen minutes, and hit every note and key-change as if they were written for her. They weren’t. She’s one of seven Elphabas currently on tour around the world, but she has played the role in more performances than any other actress. Watching her, one feels they’re seeing an actress at the start of a great career. Roscioli is, in short, a tour de force.
The rest of the cast keeps up – especially Megan Campanile, the understudy who stepped in during one performance. Campanile’s songs, “Popular,” “No One Mourns the Wicked,” and the reprise of “I’m Not That Girl” are solid and enchanting. Along the way, the chorus of citizens and secondary characters (Fiyero, Boq, Nessarose, and Madame Morrible to name a few) fill the stage with talent, and they give the drama dimension.
Masterpieces in their own right, the costumes delight with their look of ‘Victorian traveling clothes with a twist.’ No hemline is straight; they’re all asymmetrical. The hats are cock-eyed, titled, and tall. The costumes are a non-stop parade of finery that changes pallet with the play’s mood – from vibrant in Oz, to muted in the somber scenes.
One small glitch was set of plastic puppet heads worn in the parade before the Wizard’s appearance. Their look did not fit with the costumes or scenery, and it’s a curious wonder they’ve survived such a scrutinized production. But that’s a small complaint, and it underlines the sheer perfection of the spectacle. Honestly, it’s no wonder people love Wicked.
All it takes is the hop down our own Yellow Brick Road to Atlanta and the Fox to see Broadway Shows like Wicked. For a treat, one really must click one’s heels and go.