Composer Stephen Schwartz and librettist Winnie Holzman’s 2003 blockbuster “Wicked,” a clever, intriguing and tuneful reimagining of “The Wizard of Oz” lore adapted from Gregory Maguire’s novel of the same name, returns to Dayton with outstanding flourish courtesy of the Victoria Theatre Association’s Premier Health Partners Broadway Series.
Set prior to Dorothy Gale’s arrival in Oz and previously seen in 2010 with equally eye-popping finesse under Joe Mantello’s crisp, polished direction, “Wicked” flies into the Schuster Center led by the terrific duo of Christine Dwyer and Tiffany Haas as the misunderstood, green-toned Elphaba and adorably superficial Glinda (originally Galinda), respectively. Portraying polar opposites who meet at Shiz University and form an unexpected yet endearing bond that defies the odds, these actresses skillfully convey the emotional depth and delicious wit inherent in their vocally challenging roles.
The absolutely dynamic, fully engrossing Dwyer, supplying one of the best performances of the season, splendidly embraces Elphaba’s outcast status, distaste for Ozian hypocrisy and nurturing spirit in respect to guardianship of her wheelchair-bound sister Nessarose (a formidable Catherine Charlebois). Musically, and with a sublime pop sensibility, she belts Schwartz’s songs with a beguiling force on par with Tony winner Idina Menzel who originated the role. Dwyer’s strikingly lyric-driven “The Wizard and I” deserves an encore along with her phenomenally defiant, liberating “Defying Gravity,” awash in lighting designer Kenneth Posner’s dazzling purple, white and green hues. The bubbly Haas, a lovely soprano whose range is attractively showcased in “No One Mourns the Wicked” and “Thank Goodness,” particularly masters Glinda’s tricky balancing act of being self-obsessed without seeming annoyingly uncouth. When a touching love triangle develops as the handsome Fiyero (fine tenor Billy Harrigan Tighe) puts a kink into Elphaba and Glinda’s relationship, Haas’ vulnerability and maturity winningly arises. Together, Dwyer and Haas offer a very humorous rendition of “What Is This Feeling?” and a beautifully poignant “For Good.”
Elsewhere, Marilyn Caskey exudes prim sophistication and dastardly menace as Shiz headmistress Madame Morrible, Timothy Britten Parker excellently reiterates the dark underbelly of Oz as Dr. Dillamond, Dan Pacheco is a likably smitten Boq, a Munchkin who pines for Glinda to Nessarose’s dismay, and Paul Kreppel is an amiably aloof as the infamous Wizard, who convinces the citizens of Oz that it’s dangerous for animals to talk and be considered as equals. Eugene Lee’s fabulous, Tony winning scenic design, Susan Hilferty’s superb, Tony winning costumes abounding with personality and music director Adam Souza’s solid orchestra are additional treats.
Although the more iconic elements of the Oz landscape are not addressed until Act 2, a slight conceptual hindrance, you’re bound to enjoy the unique history of the Wicked Witch of the West and the Good Witch of the North in this darker, deeper context. Having witnessed “Wicked” eight times from the Broadway original to the West End to numerous national tours, I can honestly say this production is among the best. Don’t miss it!
“Wicked” continues through June 24 at the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets. Performances are Tuesday-Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Act One: 90 minutes; Act Two: 60 minutes. Tickets are $42-$121. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com