Wicked certainly has a devoted fan base. That was evident from the moment I entered the Music Hall Thursday night to a packed house. This is the second visit of the touring production to Kansas City since it’s first stop last year for a show that still plays on Broadway since opening in 2003. Easily one of the most diverse, loyal crowds I have encountered at any production this year. Some were sporting apparel with the production’s name emblazoned upon them. Was this a rock concert?
A large ominous dragon looms over the top of the stage looking ready to swoop down on the crowd at any moment and start devouring patrons. The dragon’s presence is a nod to the novel which Wicked is based on. “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West” written by Gregory Maguir, which was later adapted by Winnie Holzman with Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. In Maguir’s novel, “The Clock of the Time Dragon” plays a fairly important role as it’s the birth place of the witch who happens to become Wicked. A map to OZ serves as the curtain that comes up right around the events in the end of The Wizard of Oz.
Wicked, for the uninitiated, is a prequel of sorts to The Wizard of Oz. It opens with the events at the end of the well known story. It’s quickly revealed that Glenda (Helene Yorke), The Good Witch knew the Wicked Witch of the West, or as we find her name was, Elphaba (Marcie Dodd.) Further they were even, friends? What follows is the back story on their meeting at school, the forging of their unlikely friendship, said friendship being tested over a shared love interest, isn’t there always one? Ultimately, their split as one’s selfless deep convictions drive her to action while the other’s self interest leave her to take the safe route. Act 2 picks up during the events of Oz, playing as much Behind the Music as it is back story that will never allow you to watch The Wizard of Oz the same way again as the origins and motivations of all the characters are revealed.
The production is stunning. From the flying witches, to the acrobatic ‘flying’ monkeys to the pretty awesome “great and powerful Oz” talking head. In the early goings, there are several pretty good laughs and lots of moments that earned deserved applause from the audience. Most of the music numbers worked, but several seemed to be trying to stuff too much story into them for my taste. The show makes each musical number epic no matter how flat it’s context may be, that’s for sure.
I think my biggest problem may be that no one character ever really hooked me in. That is to say I understood Elphaba’s motivation, but I was never really drawn to it. This isn’t the fault of the production or the players, it’s just the source material lacking. I kept waiting for an event to take me and pull me in but it never arrived.
The leads Dodd and Yorke are fantastic and play great off of each other. I was able to buy into Colin Donnell’s well played Fiyero, but his character arc seemed fairly obvious when he first appeared. “No One Mourns the Wicked,” “Popular” and “Defying Gravity” were the stand out numbers.
This is the first family friendly production I have seen this year and an easy recommendation. Just keep your expectations in check as fans of this show have a tendency to be overly enthusiastic about it. As pure entertainment it works, just don’t expect any kind of deep moral tale or message. If you are a fan of The Wizard of Oz, this is a no-brainer. It’s also an easily accessible show for the tween set. It serves as a great introduction to a spectacularly produced large scale musical.
Wicked runs November 11 – December 6 at the Music Hall. Performances are Tuesday – Friday evenings with matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. For specific dates and show times visit Broadway Across America online ticketing or call the box office at 816-513-5000 Tickets range $34-$130 in advance.
A limited number of day-of-performance tickets will be made available via lottery at the box office. To enter the lottery arrive two and a half hours prior to show time. The drawing will be held a half hour later with those having their name drawn given the chance to purchase orchestra seats for $25 cash, limit 2 tickets. Lottery is available only in-person at the box office.