WHAT DID YOU THINK?
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IF YOU GO
What: Musical based on Gregory Maguire’s re-imagining of L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” books
When: Through April 15
Where: Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, 13350 Edison Parkway, Fort Myers
Cost: $57, $82, $97, $107
Information: Call 481-4849 or go to bbmannpah.com
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
FORT MYERS — "Wicked" greets audiences with a glittering map of Oz and a huge mechanical dragon tilted menacingly out over the stage. The curtain rises to a swell of music and a thundering ensemble before a sparkling Glinda descends in her bubble. Spectacle - above all else - is what this musical does best.
If "Wicked," playing through April 15 at Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Fort Myers sometimes (often) fails to hit the mark vocally, it makes up for it in sheer, mind-blowing entertainment power. There's a reason the show has played Broadway since 2003 and toured since 2005; it has very little to do with the actresses playing Elphaba and Glinda.
The musical is based on Gregory Maguire's novel, "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West." Winnie Holzman's snappy book amps up the humor while Stephen Schwartz's music and lyrics give depth to the show's "be true to yourself" message.
The plot follows green-skinned Elphaba (the future Wicked Witch of the West) and Glinda (the future Good Witch of the South) as they meet at Shiz University. Audiences learn how Elphie earns the "wicked" moniker, where the house that hit her sister comes from and the origins of the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion.
"Wicked" serves up a great big platter of sets, costumes, music, lyrics, choreography and humor - all wrapped in a bright green technicolor package that's amazingly fun to watch. The spectacle of the show overcomes any inherent weaknesses in the presentation.
Costumes - in every shade green from chartreuse to shamrock - bounce across the stage. Susan Hilferty's designs all follow an asymmetrical lean - look for the out of place element. Besides the green, there's a complete set of uniquely mismatched blue and white school uniforms and a dazzling, couture-worthy black-and-white fashion parade for the OzDust Ballroom dance sequence. It might be big, green and poofy, but half the women in the audience (and no few of the men) want those clothes.
Kenneth Posner's dramatic lighting slices through the gloom to radiate like diamonds, especially the majestic "Defying Gravity" sequence. Towering clockwork-inspired sets and the wizard's talking head impress. Brilliant choreography instills the show with a sizzling sense of movement, urgency and an omigod-thisisamazing feeling; you don't even notice the first act hits 90 minutes because it's a spectacular spectacular.
Much of the show depends on how well audiences respond to the witches two - an intensely personal experience. Anne Brummel gives a tough, angry edge to her Elphaba. Tiffany Haas plays her Glinda like a bubble-headed sorority girl; I couldn't help but think of "Elle Woods in Oz." For me, both portrayals skirt the edge of likability and the performers sometimes struggle to generate stage presence.
Vocally, this production disappoints. Neither Brummel nor Haas seem capable of breathing full life into the passionate, uplifting tunes. There's no sonic depth to the vocals, as if the performers are unwilling to commit to the notes.
"For Good," Schwartz's emotional eleven o'clock number that sees the one-time enemies re-unite, feels dim, uneven and static, with neither actress able to give the song the power it needs. Defiant first-act curtain number "Defying Gravity," the show's signature tune and one of musical theater's modern anthems, feels weak and under-powered in Brummel's hands.
Sugary pop duets fare the best. Giddy "One Short Day," chronicling the pair's adventure in the Emerald City fairly bounces with fun. Mean-girl stare-down "What Is This Feeling?," sung after the two wind up roommates, amuses.
Marilyn Caskey, returning to Fort Myers along with three other cast members from the 2009 tour, gives plenty of zip to power-hungry Head Shiz-stress Madame Morrible. Watch for her towering wigs and flamboyant costumes, plus some deliciously arch commentary. Dan Pacheco brings charm and personality to his besotted Munchkin Boq.
"Wicked" wows with wild clothes, fantastically out-there designs, dance moves that demand double-takes and a sensitive, touching story. The show wallops audiences with blast after blast of Broadway-quality delights as if to say "this is a SHOW!" It's a "wicked" good spectacle, that much is for sure.
What's your favorite fairy country - Oz, Narnia or Fillory? Email me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.