I couldn’t be happier to tell you the current national tour of composer Stephen Schwartz and librettist Winnie Holzman’s blockbuster 2003 musical “Wicked,” a fascinating, humorous and dark revisionist prequel to “The Wizard of Oz” based on the 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire, once again proves its worth as a must-see at the Schuster Center courtesy of the Victoria Theatre Association.
The production’s tremendous technical elements heighten the show’s appeal as usual, but this mounting, even stronger than its well-received 2010 engagement, uncovers new depths in the vital relationship between the green-skinned, misunderstood Elphaba and the beautiful, bubbly Galinda, the engaging duo that respectively becomes the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch of the South. Emphasizing the importance of connection and sisterhood, director Joe Mantello finds refreshing avenues for the characters to explore primarily during their impressionable time at Shiz University, the launching pad for their iconic wizardry. In fact, the moment Elphaba arrives at the Stardust Ballroom only to be humiliated by her peers yet ultimately encouraged by Galinda is filled with a revitalizing, extended sense of empowerment, respect and understanding between these characters I haven’t seen in previous productions. Mantello molds their newfound camaraderie wonderfully in the following scene which finds Galinda enthralled with Elphaba with a passion that grows to makeover proportions. By and large, it’s great to witness a “Wicked” completely rooted in the value of Elphaba and Galinda’s friendship no matter the cost, especially as political corruption and the intricacies of love threaten to dismantle their bond.
Alyssa Fox brings fierce urgency to her firm, commanding portrayal of Elphaba, effectively showcasing the intelligent, vulnerable and determined facets fueling the character’s complexity. Her superb renditions of “The Wizard and I,” “No Good Deed” and phenomenal Act 1 finale “Defying Gravity” contain terrific pop inflections. As perky Glinda, the absolutely dynamic Carrie St. Louis, a gorgeous soprano with a vibrant Elle Woods sensibility, skillfully balances the role’s pristine sophistication and playful undercurrents. She fantastically inhabits the exuberant “Popular,” an Act 1 hallmark, with hyperactive, cheerleader finesse while blending hilarious shades of Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”) and Salt-N-Pepa in the process.
Elsewhere, TV legend John Davidson is a kooky, grandfatherly delight as the Wizard, particularly filling “Wonderful” with a good old-fashioned vaudeville vibe. Kristine Zbornik is equally winning as the haughty, menacing Madame Morrible. Handsome former boy band star Ashley Parker Angel (O-Town) brings innate charisma and pleasant vocals to his understated portrayal of Fiyero. Michael DeVries (Dr. Dillamond), Liana Hunt (Nessarose) and Lee Slobotkin (Boq) provide solid work. The sharp ensemble, very astute and full of personality, is also commendable along with conductor P. Jason Yarcho’s excellent orchestra including nine local musicians.
Whether you’ve seen it before or you’re tempted to finally discover what all the fuss is about, “Wicked” resonates to the fullest in one of its finest touring incarnations.
“Wicked” continues through May 17 at the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets., Dayton. 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 $43-$157. Discounts are available. A lottery for a limited number of orchestra seats is also held 2 ½ hours before each performance in the Wintergarden of the Schuster Center. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com