Jean Gabler: The buildup I heard from friends who have seen Wicked numerous times made me wonder if the sold-out show could meet my expectations. Sure enough, I was not blown away. My daughter Jenny, who went with me, shared this feeling.
Jenny Hierlinger: I, too, was expecting to see a performance of a lifetime, and maybe that was the problem…what can ever measure up to those expectations? At intermission I felt like saying, “What I am missing here?”
Wicked, a musical written by Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics) and Winnie Holzman (book) and directed by Joe Mantello. Presented through December 7 at the Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. For tickets ($32-$89) and information, see hennepintheatredistrict.org.
Jean: Growing up in the years before VCRs, I would eagerly anticipate the annual airing of The Wizard of Oz on TV. Wicked is the story of the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda, the Good Witch: how they met in college, grew together, and were then pulled apart by circumstances. I was anxious to see how the story would unfold.
The play opens with the birth of Elphaba. Her father is surprised when he sees his newborn daughter: “Like a froggy, ferny cabbage, the baby is unnaturally green!” Fast-forward to Elphaba and her sister Nessarose (remember, the one who ends up under Dorothy’s house?) arriving at college. There, Elphaba (Donna Vivino) is assigned as roommate to Glinda (Katie Rose Clarke). They sing a duet about their mutual dislike. “Every little trait,” sings Elphaba, “makes my very flesh begin to crawl.”
I felt my childhood fears return when the flying monkeys appeared for the first time. Vivino and Clarke have strong voices and provide a solid base for the rest of the cast to revolve around. Their characters’ transition from mutual revulsion to eventual acceptance and, finally, to friendship is well-played and believable. Clarke has great fun portraying Glinda as a flirtatious, silly, hair-flipping schoolgirl.
Jenny: During their last song together, the tears Glinda shed seemed very heartfelt. It was a pleasure to watch the actresses’ chemistry. I felt Clarke’s performance was a bit overdone at times—more fitting to a Saturday Night Live skit than a Broadway musical—but her antics clearly appealed to the chuckling audience.
Jean: The real evil force turns out to be someone not even in the original story. Why did the Wicked Witch really want her sister’s shoes? How did Dorothy and her house really end up in Oz? These questions, and more, are answered in Wicked.
It was not a show that I absolutely loved, and Stephen Schwartz’s songs were not so catchy that I would play the soundtrack again and again. I didn’t think it was a show that I would return to see for a second time—until, that is, the surprising plot twist in the last five minutes. All at once I was hooked. I was in love with the story, and I wanted to see it again. I left with a smile on my face and a feeling that all was right with the world.
Jenny: After getting over my initial disappointment, I too was satisfied at the end of the musical. With stellar performances by the touring cast—especially Lenny Wolpe as the Wizard and Tom Flynn as Doctor Dillamond—catchy songs sung well, and a touching story that kept me guessing, I can easily recommend this musical.
Jean: If you get a chance to see Wicked, do so—but with realistic expectations. The show is entertaining, and the costumes are great. The set is simple and transitions easily from scene to scene, although the overuse of gears and pulleys does not seem to fit with the whimsical costumes and the story.
Jenny: I agree, the set didn’t fit my picture of Oz. Where was the yellow brick road and Munchkinland I know so well?
Jean: I asked my friend why she is going back in December to see Wicked for the fourth time. “I grew up hating the Wicked Witch,” she said, “but never really knowing her.” She said it makes her wonder who else we hate without really understanding them. “That is a commentary on society and a lesson to be learned.” That feeling is what draws her back.
Jean Gabler is program manager for undergraduate business programs at the University of St. Thomas. Jenny Hierlinger is a nurse practitioner at HealthPartners.