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Review: ‘Wicked’ works magic at Blaisdell
REVIEW BY RUTH BINGHAM / Special to the Star-Advertiser
“Wicked” works magic.
It has all the spectacle we expect from large-scale international musicals: elaborate stage design, dramatic lighting, dazzling choreography, and a powerful score. “Wicked” creates a fantastical world with asymmetrical, whimsical costumes and Oz-ian style. But it is the story that captivates.
“Wicked” the musical is a better, tighter story than Gregory Maguire’s novel, which composer Stephen Schwartz and author Winnie Holzman rewrote so that it works on multiple levels.
» Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall, 777 Ward Ave.
In the novel, the story is launched by a hurdy-gurdy man’s mechanical “razzle-dazzle spectacle” that comes to town to lead good citizens astray: “Wicked” the musical is that spectacle. We, the good citizens of Honolulu, assemble to see the novelty, a trained money cranks open the curtain, the mechanical Clock of the Time Dragon roars, and the fantasy begins.
We watch safely from our seats in the Blaisdell Concert Hall, but are transported nonetheless into an alternate universe that reflects and reveals our own. Without even noticing, we fall by way of whirlwind spectacle into Oz and come to care about the characters, the world, and what is right or wrong. By the time the curtain closes, we have, as the characters sing, been “changed for good” with a new perspective on life.
The musical takes place wholly within the book’s Clock of the Time Dragon; it begins as a “once-upon-a-time” flashback from a point we thought we knew, but ends by sending us back into our world without returning to the starting point so that we carry the story with us as we leave.
On reflection, “Wicked” is a dark tale, on one level a morality play about good and evil, but it is told with humor and a happy Hollywood ending, making it suitable and enchanting for audiences of all ages. Part of its magic is that people experience the tale differently and walk away with different lessons, so no spoilers here — you have to experience it for yourself.
That said, “Wicked” will be the shortest three hours you’ve ever spent in a theater — it covers a lot of ground during that time. Like its structural forefather, Baz Luhrman’s “Moulin Rouge,” almost every line is a reference, and every twist and turn of its very dense plot is delivered in only a phrase or two, making every word essential.
There’s little time for tears in “Wicked,” and depth comes not from poignant musical interludes, as in opera and traditional musicals, but from plot development over time. Because the story moves so quickly, it helps to know the music in advance, so start listening! Schwartz’s score is exciting but challenging for performers, with exceptionally demanding vocal roles; only top-notch performers can do it justice.
Fortunately, the cast for this tour is stellar, from leads through ensemble. Dee Roscioli (the Wicked Witch Elphaba) and Patti Murin (the Good Witch Glinda) were captivating, somehow making both characters sympathetic. Every moment is magic, with terrific voices, great acting and spot-on comic timing.
A charismatic Fiyero, the cock-sure, shallow-but-secretly-sensitive love interest, Cliffton Hall of Kailua received a warm aloha ovation, and Kim Zimmer, as the despicable Madame Morrible, made evil delightfully fun.
Schwartz, one of the most eclectic of modern composers, has a distinctive style but conveys characters and settings by borrowing from a variety of musical eras and genres. The Wizard of Oz, an older man, sings in a 1950s, mid-century musicals style; the students at the University of Shiz sing an alma mater hymn; the Wicked Witch is the power lead and the Good Witch Glinda is a perky vaudevillian, and both are unabashedly operatic (dramatic versus light lyric soprano).
Schwartz uses a universal style from a world of musics (theater, rock, classical, opera) and of musical techniques (such as rock’s driving rhythms and opera’s “leitmotive,” musical snippets that signify characters, ideas, or events). Speech and song intertwine seamlessly, asymmetrically. It’s a style that has broad appeal and accounts for the explosive popularity of international musicals.
“Wicked’s” pit orchestra — 15 musicians, nine hired locally — provide an almost subconscious flow, carrying the drama along. The production is at such a high level overall that when minor issues with balancing sound intruded during a performance last weekend, they fortunately passed quickly.
“Wicked” is a show as good as any you’ll see on Broadway. Don’t miss it.