Elphaba, the green-skinned witch of the West, doesn’t start out with a reputation for wickedness. She’s just a geeky goth girl prone to scary and embarrassing outbursts of magic, and hopes a mentorship with the Wizard of Oz will be her ticket to the good life. But when the great man disappoints, her disillusionment with Oz’s political machine turns to fury.
That cold, immovable machine is present throughout the musical. It’s embodied in the steel rivets of a dragon (inexplicably referred to as the Time-Dragon Clock) looming over the set, and in the shadowy wheels and cogs in the backdrop. It is finally personified in the roaring animatronic head of the Wizard of Oz himself.
Wicked’s central concern is how two very different friends—Elphaba (Donna Vivino) and the golden-child Glinda (Chandra Lee Schwartz)—deal with this hard reality. Vivino thrills with her good-girl-gone-bad(-ish) number “No Good Deed,” and Schwartz is a comical, flouncing cross between the film version of Glinda and Carol Kane’s controlling Ghost of Christmas Present in Scrooged.
The story falters along the way, as abrupt resolutions to some very real questions (How do two people who loathe each other become friends? Can you make change in the world only if you’re willing to play dirty? Does intention matter more than outcome?) are shoehorned into the narrative.
Fortunately, the songs quickly move the audience past those moments of disbelief and this production does what Broadway musicals are meant to do: inspire emotion through song. And there are plenty of moments of pure fun, such as when Elphaba gets decked out in a little black (witch) dress and green-colored glasses for her cosmopolitan adventure in the Emerald City. There’s plenty going on to distract from the narrative faults, keep the audience’s attention for the entire three-hour production, and make braving blockbuster crowds worthwhile.