As arguably the most well known and popular show produced in the past two decades, Wicked has been on Broadway, on tour and in West End London theaters continuously since its inception. Wherever it goes, it sells out, regardless of actual merit.
The original Broadway cast left big shoes to fill, and unfortunately this tour group was not up to the task. Every lead had a strong grasp of their characters which made them interesting to watch when acting, but they focused so heavily on characterization that the vocals and choreography suffered.
The soundtrack is one of the major draws of the show, and while the orchestra, led by Evan Roider, did an excellent job, the vocals always left something to be desired.
The over-characterization of Glinda, played by Allison Bailey, makes sense for her larger-than-life character but made her shrill and hard to listen to before her character development after “Defying Gravity.”
Fiyero, played by Curt Hansen, had similar issues, hitting all the wrong notes in “Dancing Through Life” in an attempt to make the song sound more modern than the original 2003 score is written, but without the development at the end. He is whiny and tries to make the quintessential Broadway genre sound like pop, which has never and will never work for Wicked.
Additionally, the cast entirely lacked any strong low altos, which is a shame because Madame Morrible, played by Sharon Sachs, is one of the most entertaining secondary characters to watch until she starts singing in “The Wizard and I.” The songs are too low in her register, which leads me to believe the show was cast for visual effect over musical talent.
This theory is in keeping with my biggest problem with the show. From beginning to end, it focused on spectacle instead of good storytelling. The acting was excellent, especially on the part of the leads, but was overshadowed by cheap gimmicks.
I might have been able to overlook this until “No Good Deed.” Arguably the most powerful song in the show, “No Good Deed” shows Elphaba, played by Talia Suskauer, at her breaking point. This raw emotion was completely overshadowed when she stepped back in front of a fan that blew out her cape like a middle school theater production, throwing up the overused fog-machine fog into her face and not only obscuring her face, which is completely unacceptable, but distracting her enough to put her off pitch at the climax of the song.
The show had other amateur problems like leads standing in each other’s light or the mics dropping out mid-line, but the cheap gimmicks and priority given to spectacle over character development or musical skill can not be as easily forgiven.
The show did have a few redeeming qualities. The animals were all excellent, especially the flying monkey Chistery, played by Travante S. Baker, and Dr. Dillamond, played by Tom Flynn.
The costume design was also a lot of fun, though I do have questions about the color palette, which never quite seemed to make sense until they got to the Emerald City. All in all, though, the costume and wig designers Susan Hilferty and Tom Watson did an excellent job building the world of Oz through costumes.
The best parts of the show were the set and the costumes, which makes sense given the entire production was focused on visual spectacle and gimmicks. It is a good show if you have children who want to see it, but for the most part, just listen to the soundtrack and save yourself the money.
If you want to see for yourself, the show is in Madison at the Overture Center until March 29. Regular tickets are a minimum of $75, but there is a lottery you can enter two and a half hours before every show to try to get $25 tickets. Keep an eye on the Overture’s website for the occasional $39 student rush.