Yesterday, PJ and I drove up to Columbus to see the matinée of Wicked, which is spending a month at the Ohio Theatre. My sister, my friend James and his partner, my parents, and just about everyone else I know has already seen it, so PJ and I thought that we’d avail ourselves of the opportunity to see the company in Columbus. I’m glad we did. Wicked isn’t the greatest musical I’ve ever seen, but it’s entertaining and a lot of fun! I definitely recommend it.

As I’m sure everyone knows, Wicked tells the story of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, i.e., the “real” story behind The Wizard of Oz. The show begins just after the announcement of the Witch’s death by water. The citizens of Oz soon recall the Glinda was rumored to have been friends with the Wicked Witch, so they want to know how that was possible. The rest of the show is told in flashback, as Glinda reveals what really happened between her, the Witch, and the Wizard.

What I like most about this re-telling is its emphasis on politics and the way in which propaganda shapes political reality. If you get people to believe whatever you tell them, then you can start telling them anything. In many ways, this production is an indictment of the Bush era and the creation of “truth” out of nothing more than lies that protect the administration in power. In this way, this musical is rather bold — I wonder how many of my fellow Midwesterners who saw it yesterday got this message too!

The key to any musical is, of course, the songs, and Wicked boasts a couple of really good ones. The original Broadway production starred Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenowith as Elphaba and Galinda, respectively. “Popular” is a fun one. Here’s a clip from the Today Show:

The other, even greater song, is “Defying Gravity,” the Witch’s big number. Here’s a version from the Tony Awards:

The big finish for this song is great! It is especially dramatic live with all of the lights shining on Elphaba’s face after she starts rising up above everyone.

In the Columbus version, Jackie Burns plays Elphaba. She’s excellent in this role. She has a great voice, and she’s a really good actor to boot. Elphaba is kind of a geek, especially throughout the first act, which takes place at the university.

The understudy, Marissa Lupp, played Galinda for our performance. When we saw that an understudy was playing the part, we were skeptical, but Lupp was excellent too. She seemed to have played the part countless times. She sang well, and also performed her part well.

I also enjoyed Richard H. Blake, who plays Fiyero, the man both witches fall for. Here’s a clip of him and a different actress playing Elphaba singing my favorite song from the show, “As Long As You’re Mine”:

This is the romantic duet from the show, and I think it’s really sweet. Of course, as soon as two characters sing a song about even if they just have one night together it will be enough that they’re only going to have one night together!

The only thing I didn’t like about this musical, and what keeps it from being totally great, is the ending. I didn’t care for the desperate need to tie everything back to the original version of The Wizard of Oz. Things get a little too cute and literal by the end, and I didn’t think it was necessary. If the original story was propaganda, then why stick to it so closely?

Overall, I enjoyed this show more than I thought I would. It’s a lot of fun, the sets, cast, and staging are all great, and I found myself singing the key songs as we drove home. I recommend it.

As a postscript, while I was searching YouTube for video clips, I found this one of Anna Gasteyer as Elphaba. It’s really weird to see her in this part. I guess this is the problem for actresses who become famous for SNL.

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