Review: WICKED

by Lynn on June 13, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Plays until July 21, 2024.

Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz

Book by Winnie Holzman

Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire

Directed by Joe Mantello

Set by Eugene Lee

Costumes by Susan Hilferty

Lighting by Kenneth Posner

Sound by Tony Meola

Projections by Elaine J. McCarthy

Cast: Austen Danielle Bohmer

Aymee Garcia

Kayla Goldsberry

Blake Hammond

Erica Ito

Kingsley Leggs

Xavier McKinnon

Lauren Samuels

Wayne Schroder

Tregoney Shepherd

Mitchell Tobin

Alex Vinh

Lively, energetic, tuneful, with some strong performances. But as seems to be the norm with touring Broadway musicals, the orchestra drowns out the singers and the singers try to compensate by pushing their voices resulting in the lyrics get muddied. And the story has always been problematic.


WICKED, the Broadway sensation, looks at what happened in the Land of Oz…but from a different angle. Long before Dorothy arrives, there is another young woman, born with emerald green skin—smart, fiery, misunderstood, and possessing an extraordinary talent. When she meets a bubbly blonde who is exceptionally popular, their initial rivalry turns into the unlikeliest of friendships…until the world decides to call one “good,” and the other one “wicked….The untold ‘true’ story of the Witches of Oz.”

An unhappily married woman has a one-night-stand with a ‘snake-oil-salesman’ who offers her an emerald green elixir to ‘calm her down.’ When she gives birth nine months later, she and her unsuspecting husband are horrified that the baby has emerald green skin. The child is named Elphaba. She is smart, bright and has magical powers, but nothing will get her father to love her. Elphaba is sent away to a private school where she is shunned by her classmates because of her skin colour. She is roomed with Glinda, blonde, beautiful and very popular. Glinda is not smart, wise or briming with character. She loathes Elphaba and the feeling is returned. Then a dashing, but superficial prince named Fiyero, arrives. Glinda zeroes in on him and the attention is returned. But slowly his attentions turn to Elphaba. There is also the Wizard of Oz who intrigues Elphaba because of her magic abilities. She wants to meet him and feels they would be kindred spirits. Terrible complications arise. Glinda will become ‘The Good Witch,’ and Elphaba will be known as “The Wicked Witch of the West.”

The Production and comment. Background Note. Wicked has been running on Broadway since 2003. It has garnered all sorts of Awards including Tony Awards and Grammy Awards. It has had successful runs in the West End in London and internationally. In other words, it’s a huge success.

When the orchestra strikes up, I note the word LOUD! in my programme. When the flying monkeys and other citizens of Oz scurry on bellowing that the wicked witch is dead, I write ‘ear-splitting’ in my programme. T’was ever thus with most touring Broadway musicals. The powers that be who control the sound levels feel the audience must experience an explosion of sound rather than experience a reasonable sound level that allows them to actually hear the lyrics and music clearly. This is not the fault of the theatre (and Mirvish Producitons, which is presenting this show), it’s the originating creator of sound—Tony Meola, take a bow. One complains about this recurring noise of sound that is too loud and is ignored. Perhaps the sound folks are deaf. But to continue….

Eugene Lee’s Tony Award winning set of Oz etc. is a huge neon creation of large gears and a huge clock and above the set is a forbidding red-eyed (metal?) monster of a bird-thing. The reason for the gears and monster is explained in Gregory Maguire’s book on which this musical is based, but not actually explained in Winnie Holzman’s book of the musical.

The citizens of Oz sing “No One Mourns the Wicked” in the first song, which is really the end of the story (the story will then flash back to how it all started). Glinda, the Good Witch (Austen Danielle Bohmer) is in a large bubble that floats above the folks below, smiling but looking troubled as her followers/and fans sing of how they are glad of the death of the Wicked Witch. Glinda doesn’t say anything to change their minds.  As the story does unfold we learn the truth about the so called Wicked Witch (Elphaba, played wonderfully by Lauren Samuels). Joe Mantello directs with a grand vision and attention to the breathtaking pace.

On the surface Wicked looks like it’s a story of two different women who become friends. Glinda is smiley and bubbly in attitude, attractive to everybody, and thought to be the “Good Witch.” It’s not that she’s good. Rather it’s that she’s compliant, accommodating, never challenges anyone because she wants to be liked and popular.

Elphaba is generally loathed because of her emerald green skin. She’s different and different is to be shunned. Elphaba has a conscience and lives a principled life. She has ethics. She can spot phoniness a mile off and has Glinda’s number. She believes initially Glinda is vapid and without backbone. And Elphaba’s moral fiber shows when she is furious when she learns the decree that animals can no longer teach at her school. That means that her beloved Doctor Dillamond (Kingsley Leggs), a goat, cannot teach her any longer.  Elphaba is also horrified that an Ozian Official wants to keep uncooperative animals (and humans?) in cages to calm them down.

Overtime Glinda and Elphaba became friends, sort of. Perhaps Elphaba just comes to accept Glinda’s innate silliness and Glinda comes to see Elphaba’s goodness. They have a song in Act II called “For Good” in which Glinda and Elphaba sing of their friendship in the most whimsical, philosophical leanings.  

“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good.”

All I can say is “ohhhhh PULLLLLeeeeze!!” You wonder if composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz and writer Winnie Holzman were in the same room or if they both looked at the other’s work. It’s a very clever play on the words of ‘better’ and ‘good’ but the song is dishonest because neither character changed because of knowing the other. Glinda never developed a deepened character and Elphaba never lost her moral fiber.

On a deeper level Wicked is a metaphor for the dangers of exclusion, segregation, racism, dictatorship, Fascism, and how quickly lies can spread by blinkered, lemming-like people who are so stupid they would believe anything, as they have believed the lies about Elphaba. Fiyero (a fine performance of grace and style by Xavier McKinnon) has a wonderful line in which he wonders if people can be that stupid that they would believe the lies about Elphaba—and of course they can be that stupid, just look at ‘social’ media. Fiyero is the one whose consciousness has been raised by knowing Elphaba.

Elphaba is so fed up with people thinking her evil that she decides to play that game and act it. Lauren Samuels as Elphaba sings the rousing “Defying Gravity” in which Elphaba will live by her own rules and not others. Lauren Samuels has a stunning strong voice, and her acting chops are dandy. By contrast Austen Danielle Bohmer as Glinda is tentative in her acting and unsteady in her high notes. She fares better in duets with Lauren Samuels.

When Elphaba is planning an escape she asks Glinda to promise her that she (Glinda) will not tell the citizens the truth about her (Elphaba), that she was in fact a decent person. Glinda agrees. Here is my endless concern with this work—why does Elphaba want the citizens to believe a lie and not the truth about her? It’s never explained and Glinda (of course) never asks—always wanting to be compliant and agreeable to the end. Elphaba’s planned escape will be permanent, so why the mystery about her true nature?  

Wicked is rousing, lively and tuneful. It’s based on Gregory Maguire’s clever book of the same name and has just enough seriousness and depth of the story to make it look like it’s about something important.

Mirvish Productions presents:

Plays until July 21, 2024.

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (1 Intermission)

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.