Wicked is usually a fantastic musical, and this season’s production at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady was no exception. Running from November 8–25, the show was performed by the company of Wicked’s second North American tour. The cast’s next stop is St. Louis, Mo., starting December 12 and going until January 6.
Set in the magical land of Oz, Wicked begins several years before the fateful tornado that carried Dorothy’s house from Kansas. Its protagonist is a young Wicked Witch of the West, and the story follows her struggles as a green-skinned girl at a boarding school and takes the audience through her transformation into the Wizard of Oz’s main villain. Her name is Elphaba, derived from the initials of the author of Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum. The other main character is the Good Witch of the North, a much more popular girl at Elphaba’s school. At its heart, the play is about the relationship between the two of them and how it develops over time.
Written and composed by Stephen Schwartz, the musical numbers are clever and catchy. From strangely agitating chord progressions (in a good way) to expertly crafted polysyllabic rhymes (“There are precious few at ease/With moral ambiguities”), the songs have both artistic depth and the all-important tendency to stick in the listener’s mind for weeks after the performance.
The spoken dialogue, written by Winnie Holzman, is similarly sharp. Elphaba’s lines are intelligent with a hint of insecurity, continuing the character progression in the space between songs. The plot is slightly toned down from Gregory Maguire’s original novel of the same name, but the main themes exploring the dichotomy between intentions and consequences remain intact.
On November 15, I went to see Wicked at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady, not exactly knowing what to expect, but hoping for the best. To be honest, I’m a sucker for a good musical, but I hadn’t seen this particular one before. Sure, I’d heard “Defying Gravity,” but that was about it. I’m glad to say, though, that it was rather fantastic.
For those who aren’t in the know, the original musical starred Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth as Elphaba and Glinda, two of the witches from The Wizard of Oz. This version, however, was performed by a traveling acting troupe. Christine Dwyer and Jeanna de Waal took the roles of Elphaba and Glinda respectively, and happened to put on a stunning show.
Dwyer’s portrayal of Elphaba, whether by accident or acting genius, matched how I’d imagine her character to grow. Her singing and acting starts out mildly static and lacks quite the emotion you’ll hear in Menzel’s versions of the songs, particularly in “The Wizard and I.” But, as Elphaba grows as a character, so too does the emotion in Dwyer’s motions and words, especially by the time she sings in “Defying Gravity.” It was hard to tell, though, if this correlation was intentional, or if Dwyer started out a bit shaky from stage fright. But, considering Dwyer’s national and international performances in musicals like Rent, I’m inclined to think it was the former.
De Waal’s version of Glinda was superb. Although the role of Glinda was originally designed around the Southern Chenoweth, the British De Waal made the part her own, and added little flourishes along the way. Unlike Dwyer’s Elphaba, De Waal’s Glinda started out strong with “No One Mourns the Wicked,” and continued to keep that confidence and, oftentimes, arrogance throughout the musical.
But, what drew me into the performance even more was the chemistry between Dwyer and De Waal. The way they played off each other in each scene worked far better than I would have expected, having looked through the program to learn a little about each cast member. The back and forth banter and comedic shots between the two during “What Is This Feeling?” was very entertaining. And, their rendition of “Defying Gravity” gave me shivers. Granted, it wasn’t quite as good as the version by Menzel and Chenoweth.
One of the characters I didn’t like quite so much was the version of Fiyero by Billy Harrigan Tighe. It’s not that his acting was poor. His character, though, seemed to be targeted toward teenage girls. Considering his role in the play as a source of romantic drama between Elphaba and Glinda, this isn’t all that surprising, but Norbert Leo Butz did it so much better; he was able to pull off the heartthrob personality without being shallow. However, the way Tighe and Dwyer performed the romantic bits of the musical worked rather well.
Although the tickets for Wicked started at $35 at Proctor’s, I would wholeheartedly suggest that anyone interested in musicals at all watch the show wherever it’s being shown. Unfortunately, Proctor’s stopped showing the musical on November 25, but keep a look out for a performance; it’s definitely worth it.