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Stage Review: Wicked

The touring production of the hit Broadway musical is at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. Is it worth the price of admission? Read our Wicked Stage Review to find out!

This lavish stage production of Wicked – which opened yesterday, Friday, June 17 – is absolutely stunning, and the Pantages is the perfect theatre to house it (the intricately adorned interior looks a bit like Oz all on its own). The stage includes a wonderful mechanical dragon above the curtain that flaps his wings and waves his head from time to time; and the lighting effects and stage sets are amazing. The play itself would benefit from a faster tempo and fewer songs, but there is more than enough magic to overwhelm any reservations about its entertainment value.

Wicked Stage Review: Rosenkrantz and Guildensterm meet Carrie

Wicked (based on Gregory Maguire’s novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West) is a prequel to The Wizard of Oz, at least in its first act. Act Two takes a sort of Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead approach, showing us new scenes that take place supposedly off-scene during the events of Wizard of Oz.

In effect, this revisionist take on the Wicked Witch of the West is rewrite of Carrie, about a young girl with magic powers who is ostracized by the “in-crowd” and eventually snaps. Unfortunately, the effect is somewhat muted by the fact that she arguably never really turns “wicked” – bitter would be a more apt description.

Wicked is perhaps overlong: the 2pm matinee, which started about ten minutes late, did not let out until nearly 5pm. Some of the songs drag – those traditional music numbers that stop the plot dead.

Fortunately, that doesn’t stop the overall experience from being exciting, funny, and often touching. Elphaba really does generate genuine sympathy, and the audience finds it easy to identify with her as an outsider who is forced to break away from conformity to a corrupt system that tolerates and even promotes injustice in the name of maintaining a soothing status quo.  Seeing her mutate into the familiar figure of the Wicked Witch of the West is fascinating, and the closing number from Act One – “Defying Gravity,” when she first takes flight on her broom – is a stunning show-stopper.

Wicked Stage Review: Conclusion

The performance was received ecstatically by the audience (which included many young children). Understudy Katie Adams was filling in for Kendra Kassebaum in the role of Glinda the Good, but there was no sign of awkwardness – her performance both as an actress and a singer seemed spot-on, and the play proceeded without a hitch. Not only did several songs receive loud applause, so did many of the lines – and one or two “surprise” appearances by familiar characters from the film. The standing ovation at the end was loud and long and wildly enthusiastic.

Of the two high-profile musicals currently playing in Hollywood that are based on old fantasy films, we have a preference for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir at the NoHo Arts Center (reviewed here), because we found the overall story more satisfying and enjoyed a higher percentage of the songs. However, Wicked clearly has the edge in terms of spectacular entertainment value, thanks to its elaborate sets, costumes, and mechanical effects (which include not only the flying witch but also flying monkeys). It truly is a magical experience, worth the price of admission.