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Center Stage

‘Wicked’ gives ‘good’ a whole new meaning

11/6/2013

I’ve always said, the key to eternal youth is behaving like a child — not with tantrums or baby talk, but with awesome moments of pure joy and imagination, the stuff of dreams. The Broadway musical, “Wicked,” is a potent potion to induce such an effect.

“Wicked” runs at the Civic Center through Nov. 10.

“Wicked” runs at the Civic Center through Nov. 10.

On Halloween night, a packed house of ticket-holders were treated to a different kind of trick, as Winnie Holzman’s “Wicked” left audience members young and old ooh-ing and aah-ing in unison as if gazing upon Fourth of July fireworks. These fireworks are not over head, but an enchanting incendiary on stage. They are the powerful props and effects for which “Wicked” is famous. And they especially are the thunderous voices wailing from the diaphragms of the disproportionately petite women starring on stage.

Not even the echoing roar bellowing from the all-smoke-and-mirrors image of “the great and powerful Wizard of Oz,” which rolls onto the stage toward the end of Act 1 in the form of a 20-foot-tall talking head of gold, could compete with the high notes achieved by Jennifer DiNoia (Elphaba, a.k.a. “The Wicked Witch of the West”) and Hayley Podschun (Glinda). While DiNoia’s perfect pitch was sweet and reminiscent of Jodi Benson (the voice of Ariel in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”), it was Podschun who stole the show with her precocious gift of song and her charming and hilarious portrayal of the posh and popular blonde, who is forcibly paired with the awkward and un-cool Elphaba to be roommates in Oz’s version of college.

“It’s good to see me, isn’t it? No need to answer, that was a rhetorical question,” Glinda addresses her munchkin minions in a stunning debut to open the show. Descending from above in her bubble-shaped apparatus, she commanded the audience’s attention as she begins the story of the witches of Oz in reflection of the past.

The engaging music of Stephen Schwartz was given due justice by the cast of singers and dancers, who gracefully hypnotize the audience from one scene to the next, as the story unfolds telling of universal social plights. Prejudice, castes and bullying revolve throughout the plot, as we learn how a girl, who couldn’t help being born green anymore than she could help being born at all, struggled to overcome the maltreatment of her parents and peers as a result. Audiences are quick to identify with Elphaba, despite her frightening magical outbursts triggered by frustration. We learn she is good, that she loves emphatically and she is gifted in her sorcery.

It’s that gift that allows Elphaba to glow with a radiant hue from within beyond and despite her outward hideousness and ugly green skin. A message of inner beauty prevails as Elphaba and the preppy princess Glinda foster an unlikely friendship that leads them to the Emerald City to meet the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz.

But the Wizard is no more than a feeble average Joe, a poser. As the girls are enlightened to a darker side of Oz, the question of wickedness becomes a climactic epiphany to close Act 1. Staunch in her activist convictions, Elphaba bulks against the Wizard’s fraudulence and injustice, so through political propaganda, the green witch is painted evil.

“Are people born wicked, or is it thrust upon them?” Glinda engages the audience at the story’s start. The answer becomes despairingly clear with a powerful and moral message that all should take to heart. CV

Written by Winnie Holzman
Directed by Joe Mantello
Runs through Nov. 10 at the Civic Center
$48-$160
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