Ding Dong! The Wicked Witch is definitely not dead.
Her musical bio “Wicked,” which just opened a sold-out three-week run at DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids, is every bit as enchanting and exciting as when I first saw it 13 years ago on Broadway. In fact, the story’s social commentary about deception and discrimination seems even more timely.
Based on Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel, “Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” the musical connects with audiences right away by offering back story to the iconic 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz.” Even before the curtain rises, the stage welcomes audiences to this alternative world with an elaborate frame of cogs and gears around the proscenium topped with a gigantic red-eyed dragon. That fanciful steam-punk world never lets up from Glinda the Good’ s bubble machine entrance to the go-go-green glowing emerald city and the Wicked Witch’s awesome flight at the end of Act I.
Although the set, costumes and lighting are simply mind boggling, it’s really the heart-tugging tale and Stephen Schwartz’s epidemically catchy music that has made “Wicked” one of the longest running shows on Broadway and a tour that still packs houses.
The story follows the schoolgirl friendship of green-skinned outcast, Elphaba, and super popular, self-absorbed Valley Girl Glinda. Of course, there’s a handsome prince, Fiyero, that both girls fall for. To complicate matters, Oz is undergoing a political upheaval behind the scenes which causes the animal citizens to lose the power to speak and teach. Elphaba is concerned about this discrimination against animals and heads to the Emerald City to see if the wise Wizard can save them. But she discovers power and wisdom are not what she expected.
The whole plot revolves around what is wicked, what is good and what is just “fake news.” See what I mean about timely!
The touring cast is fantastic. Ginna Claire Mason as Glinda portrays the perfect blonde bubblehead, bouncing around the stage, but she grows in strength and character as the story progresses. As Elphaba, Mary Kate Morrissey has the powerhouse pipes required for a score that defies gravity. The blend of the voices of these two characters is critical to revealing their bond and these actresses hit the mark precisely.
Tall, lithe Jon Robert Hall is perfectly “deeply shallow” as the handsome hero, Fiyero. Tom McGowan’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz is almost too lovable. Isabel Keating makes Madame Morrible demandingly witchy without being trite. Harry Bouvy’s Dr. Dillamond is a delightful combination of wise professor and frustrated, braying goat.
The stage is constantly abuzz with what seems to be an unlimited cast of acrobatic monkeys, intriguingly costumed citizens, dancing dolls and chattering students. The steam-punk setting inside the workings of a clock or time machine is overwhelmingly complex and often set afire with a sea of green lights or a colorful sunset.
One of the things I enjoy most about this show is all the double entendres and witty lines in the script. Commonly used phrases such as “defying gravity,” “can’t tie me down,” “no good deed goes unpunished,” and “couldn’t be happier,” take on new, deeper meanings. Airhead Glinda makes a frighteningly accurate assessment of famous leaders in the song “Popular.”
“It’s not about aptitude. It’s the way you’re viewed. So it’s very shrewd to be very, very popular.”
This is the first time the tour has been presented in Grand Rapids. The stage at DeVos Performance Hall was modified in 2014 to accommodate larger Broadway tours such as last year’s “The Phantom of the Opera” and this year’s “Wicked.”
Performances continue through Nov. 5. Although it is considered sold out, a few seats are made available by lottery before each performance. To enter the lottery arrive two and a half hours before the performance time and put your name in the lottery drum. If your name is drawn, you can purchase a ticket for $25.