The standing ovation seemed to go on forever. It felt as though all of Place des Arts was on its feet, genuinely thrilled and grateful to the immensely talented actors and production team who had made the evening a truly magical experience.
The beloved story, The Wizard of Oz, was given new life in writer Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West and has since been adapted for the theatre by Winnie Holzman with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. The musical follows the story of The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West, before she was villainized and was still known by her birth name, Elphaba.
Elphaba is a feisty young woman, who has been misunderstood all her life because of the unfortunate green tinge of her skin and wants only to be like everyone else. At Shiz academy, where she is sent to study, she finds an unlikely friend in Gallinda Upland, a popular blonde queen bee, who later becomes known as Glinda the Good.
Elphaba has always dreamed of meeting the revered leader of Oz, the Wizard, but when she finally gets the opportunity she discovers things are not as they seem. Determined to save Oz from the corrupt Wizard, Elphaba vows to fight the injustice being done and is forced to flee the city. Painted as a rebel and a threat in the press, it is not long before everyone is forced to choose, are they with her, or against her.
At its heart, Wicked is a touching story about friendship and loss, and choosing a path in life before one is chosen for you.
The songs by Schwartz, which have become so iconic in the world of musical theatre in such a short time, were the best part of the musical, standing out above the stunning set, excellent choreography and fast paced and clever script. Big dance numbers like ‘Dancing Through Life’ were executed perfectly with practiced ease while touching ballads like ‘For Good’ really drove home the core messages and themes of the show.
The moment I arrived and took my seat in the balcony, I was shocked by the lavish set. I expected a lot from a show as celebrated as Wicked, but this was something else. There was an enormous dragon sculpture perched at the top of the elaborate set which spanned the stage with its wings. As the show began I was amazed to see its eyes begin to glow and its head to move menacingly along with the action. It was simply awesome to see how much work was put into this detail which had no actual bearing on the plot.
The cast was led by Stephanie Torns as Elphaba, and Jeanna De Waal as Glinda. Both actresses were incredibly energetic and lively, considering the show has been running since Aug. 1.
Torns was listed in the program as a standby for Christine Dwyer the usual lead, and it was announced just before the show that Torns would be taking the stage. If there was any doubt in my mind beforehand at having to watch the standby instead of the original casting choice, it was erased as soon as she opened her mouth. She was amazing. Torns definitely blew everyone away with her fantastic voice. She drew out her low melancholy notes, she belted her fierce high ones. She was by far the highlight.
It is always so refreshing to see songs which are so well known like ‘Defying Gravity’ and ‘Popular’, be given new life. A new twist or turn in the melody or in the way the actors deliver a certain line. Both female leads did a great job of this, staying very close to the cast recording that has been played over and over while still giving the songs personality.
The only major downside of the production was the character of Fiyero, who was played by Billy Harrigan Tighe. His singing was plain awful. Thankfully he only had two songs, but being the main romantic lead that eventually drives a wedge between Glinda and Elphaba, he was a let-down. He sang flat most of the time, which proved painfully noticeable and lacked the breath control to make it through the challenging songs gracefully. It’s possible that towards the end of the run, he simply threw out his voice, but he ruined one of my favourite songs, and that is unforgivable for a professional.
The supporting cast however, a group of about 28 actors, who played Ozian officials, students, flying monkeys, as well as larger characters like the wizard, were very strong. They all knew exactly what they were supposed to be doing and made it look easy.
Overall, the entire production quality was through the roof. The show far surpassed my expectations for a touring show! It was well worth the sixty-some dollar ticket.
When I was leaving, I heard one little girl say, “I would come see this musical everyday if I could.” I think that says it all.