by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Good and bad witches along with their friends and enemies and citizens of Oz have arrived in Jacksonville and will be here until the 22nd at the Times Union Center. Of course, we are referring to the arrival of “Wicked,” one of the most critically acclaimed musicals in recent Broadway history.
The plot is based on the 1995 bestselling novel by Gregory Maguire titled, “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.” Maguire’s story is a prequel to L. Frank Baum’s children’s story, “The Wizard of Oz,” which predates Dorothy’s arrival and presents an alternative version of the Land of Oz, as it traces the intertwined lives of Glinda and Elphaba, who first meet as university students, and come to realize their land is filled with oppression. Glinda, who will become the Good Witch of the North, is a lovely popular blonde, while Elphaba, later known as the Wicked West of the West, is shunned because of her emerald green skin.
The story was adapted to the stage by Winnie Holzman’s book and the lyrics and music of Stephen Schwartz, and received multiple Tony nominations, winning Best Scenic Design and Best Costume design. We will leave the story details for you to discover, when you see this fascinating show; it will hold your undivided attention for two hours.
What impressed us in this production was much the same as when this show came to this city in 2009: the cast, the energy, and the spectacular visuals. The stage seemed filled with a million lights of every color, and included backgrounds with giant clockworks, flying witches and monkeys, and very innovative and gorgeous costumes. For this second viewing of the show, since we knew the story, we were able to concentrate on the fine points like the ever-changing colors of the backdrop sky, and the fine details on the Edwardian inspired costumes. Binoculars help in this regard; bring them along if you have them.
The cast of some thirty performers gave an energetic and inspired performance, and all of them were outstanding, with excellent voices in evidence all over the huge stage. The two leading ladies Tiffany Haas (Glinda) and Anne Brummel (Elphaba), who sang many of the songs, could not have been any better, with big, accomplished voices filled with fire and gusto.
Since Baum’s original “The Wizard of Oz” is such a universally beloved children’s story (assisted by the 1939 film that has been on TV a few thousand times), as expected, there were a number of children at the evening performance we saw. All the children we observed seemed mesmerized, with their undivided attention on the stage.
At the show we ran into a number of people we knew, and found it interesting that about half of them were newbies – first time “Wicked” viewers – while the others were repeat patrons. Wicked opened in 2003, is still playing on Broadway, and has an avid following of repeaters. It reminds us of “Cats” that has been around forever or so it seems and still has legions of fans who return again and again. And we expect the same with “Wicked.” In some large cities “Wicked” has already had three road show tours, and will no doubt be back in Jacksonville in a few years. But don’t pass up the opportunity to see this production now, for it offers such a unique theatre experience.
The witches leave on the 22nd, and there are still good seats available. Any seat in the house is good because of an excellent sound system that allows everyone to hear well and the special effects are marvelous no matter where you are located in the TU Center. You can charge by phone at 904-632-3373 or order on-line 24 hours a day with instant seat selection at www.artistseriesjax.org.
Many of the cast performed in the show on Broadway, and the sets are almost identical. So take a trip to a New York experience right here in River City. The show’s universal theme of acceptance comes through to everyone, young and old.
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM