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Wicked ‘defies gravity’ at the Hippodrome

By Florence Lau | October 11, 2012

This month, prepare to soar above Oz at the Hippodrome with the Tony Award winning musical Wicked.

The prequel to The Wizard of Oz, Wicked follows the story of Elphaba Thropp (Christine Dwyer) and Glinda Upland (Jeanna de Waal), who eventually grow up to be the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good. Grappling with the idea of good vs. evil, politics and friendship, this show teems with colorful lights and costumes, spectacular special effects, show-stopping musical numbers and of course, one misunderstood green girl.

Although this show was based on Gregory Maguire’s book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, it departs from the novel in order to tell a much more light-hearted story about the conflict in Oz.

The show begins with the celebration of the death of the Wicked Witch of the West before taking the audience back in time to when the Witch was still a girl named Elphaba starting out at Shiz University with her younger sister, Nessarose. Although Elphaba initally has an extremely antagonistic relationship with her roommate, Glinda, the two of them eventually become best friends, to the surprise of everyone else around them.

Meanwhile, dark forces are brewing in Oz.

Animals are losing their ability to speak, and Elphaba is determined to get to the bottom of it. Elphaba’s magical powers have come to the Wizard’s attention, but when she realizes that he is a fraud who only wants to use her powers for his own benefit, she strikes out against him, leading him to label her the Wicked Witch of the West.

The rest of the musical deals with the consequences of Elphaba’s decision to fight the Wizard and her subsequenct vilification, which brings her into conflict with Glinda and tests the limits of their friendship.

Given that the heart of the story is the friendship between Elphaba and Glinda, the two leads must have chemistry with each other in order to deliver a successful performance, so as to draw the audience into their world and their doomed friendship. Different pairs of Elphabas and Glindas have accomplished this to varying degrees.

Dwyer and De Waal definitely embraced this dynamic and played off each other’s energy throughout the show whenever they had scenes together.

Separately, their acting and singing was also quite impressive.

Although Dwyer’s choice to play Elphaba as more acerbic than sarcastic (many past performers chose the latter), was jarring at first, that character choice blended seemlessly into the overall story, and for anyone who was shocked by that choice soon began to wonder why they had been surprised in the first place.

Her vocal ability was desplayed throughout Wicked, but her shining moment came in the climax of the show at the end of Act I, in the song “Defying Gravity.” While raised up above the stage, complete with smoke and light effects, Dwyer’s Elphaba is transformed into the Wicked Witch of the West for the first time, and the power in her voice gives the audience chills as they watch her fly.

Throughout the rest of the show, Dwyer was no less passionate and intense, and she even changed up some of the vocals from the original score in order to amp up the drama and tension.

De Waal started off a little weaker vocally, although her acting was spot on from the very beginning. However, she managed to find her groove by the end of her first song, and when the show ended, it was hard to even remember that her first notes weren’t as impressive.

Glinda’s defining song in Wicked is “Popular,” which is a very fun, pop-esq piece as Glinda tries to make Elphaba popular. This song affords the actress playing Glinda the opportunity to improv and act silly with the actress playing Elphaba, and De Waal definitely did just that without taking it over the top. Some of the loudest laughs that evening were in that scene, and it looked like Dwyer and De Waal had a lot of fun as well.

One of the best things about live theatre is that anything can happen, and that no show is exactly like another. At the end of the performance, the final curtain refused to come down, and rather than exiting the stage, Dwyer led the cast in an impromptu dance party on the stage with the music, causing the audience to clap along instead of leaving the theatre immediately.

This mishap really embodies the spirit of the show and way the performers approach their work. They are clearly in love with what they do and give all they can to each and every performance. The joy and energy is apparant from the beginning to the end of the show, and it leaves audiences feeling refreshed and wanting to see Wicked again and again.

Wicked will be in Baltimore through Nov. 4.

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