The Wizard of Oz is one of those stories that all people think they know well. According to the musical “Wicked,” based on the book by Gregory Maguire, however, there’s a whole other side of the story- the side of the Wicked Witch of the West. For those ready to have their perceptions of the classic story flipped in the most wonderful way, Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman’s fabulous musical is onstage now at the Durham Performing Arts Center. Directed by Joe Mantello, the play is intriguing before it even begins, thanks to a large dragon centerpiece atop the stage and a glowing map of the land of Oz functioning as the curtain.
Once that curtain opens, viewers will find themselves transported to that time in Oz right after the wicked witch’s death. Glinda, portrayed by the charming and self-effacingly funny Carrie St. Louis, comes out in her traditional bubble, wearing a beautiful, sparkling dress. The dress and Glinda herself stand out beautifully against the drab gear of the Oz-ians who have come to celebrate the Witch’s death, making for a visually beautiful show right from the start. When someone asks Glinda if it’s true that she was friends with the Wicked Witch, time rewinds and the audience gets to watch the two go through college together, and the story unfolds slowly up until the present.
The Wicked Witch, whose true name turns out to be Elphaba (Laurel Harris), meets Glinda in school. As expected, they are complete opposites. Elphaba is sarcastic, jaded, and green, and Glinda is perky, popular, and blonde. Yet, through a mishap, they end up as roommates and slowly begin to build a friendship.
Both actresses are incredible in their roles. There really is no other word for it. They play off of each other well while still letting each of the characters shine individually. Harris is darkly funny and identifiable in her role as Elphaba while St. Louis manages to make Glinda overly bubbly and happy without being grating or annoying…well to anyone but Elphaba. Each of the women also boasts powerful pipes. Their funny and cleverly staged rendition of “What is This Feeling” is one of many highlights in the show. Individually, Harris knocks it out of the park with “Defying Gravity,” and St. Louis steals the show with her crazily choreographed rendition of “Popular.”
Speaking of choreography, James Lynn Abbott and Corinne McFadden Herrera have outdone themselves here. Every single dance number features snazzy and unexpected choreography. As mentioned, the “Popular” dance is a lot of fun, and on a larger scale, “Dancing Through Life” has some beautifully complex choreography of its own.
“Wicked” is, as many have known for years, beautifully and cleverly written. It is chock full of smoothly delivered and never overplayed references to the original story on which it is based, and the “Oz speak” adopted by the characters is positively charming. There are so many things to love here, including the fact that the story is a bit of a “mind twister” in that one can really see it fitting into the original story as a sort of “behind the scenes” or “untold” part. The story is so fully realized that one will never be able to watch the original Wizard of Oz the same again. It’s also powerful in that there are no real villains presented within the show. The characters sometimes make poor choices and do bad things, but at their core, they are still just people, trying to find their way and do what is right. That idea- that what counts as “wickedness” often has a lot to do with perspective- is freeing and enlightening, as is this fabulous show.
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents WICKED: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE WITCHES OF OZ at 8 p.m. Jan. 9, 2 and 8 p.m. Jan. 10, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Jan. 11, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 13-15, 8 p.m. Jan. 16, 2 and 8 p.m. Jan. 17, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Jan. 18, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20-22, 8 p.m. Jan. 23, 2 and 8 p.m. Jan. 24, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $66.70-$212.10 (including fees).
DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/how_to_buy_tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/864373.
NOTE: Starting two-and-a-half hours before each performance, the Durham Performing Arts Center will conduct a lottery for a limited number of orchestra seats. The winners will be drawn 30 minutes later, and will be able to buy up to two tickets for just $25 each (cash only). For details of the Wicked ticket lottery, click http://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/wicked-announces-lottery-for-25-seats-1.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/group_services.
SHOW: http://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/wicked-1 and https://www.facebook.com/events/402384136568214/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poo7yZcNDmQ.
THE TOUR: http://www.wickedthemusical.com/.
TOUR CAST/CREATIVE: http://www.wickedthemusical.com/cast-creative.
TOUR FAQ: http://www.wickedthemusical.com/faq#tour_faq.
DPAC NEWS RELEASES: http://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/broadways-biggest-blockbuster-wicked-returns-to-dpac-january-7-25-2015 and http://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/wicked-announces-lottery-for-25-seats-1.
2014-15 SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: http://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2014-15.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.
DPAC PARENTAL ADVISORY: “[Wicked is r]ecommended age for children is 8 and up. As a courtesy to our guests, children under the age of 6 will not be permitted in the theater. Please be aware that all guests, regardless of age, must have a ticket. Children must be able to sit quietly in their own seat without disturbing other guests. As a further courtesy to our guests, DPAC recommends one parent or chaperone for every one child in attendance.”
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900 children’s novel): http://thewizardofoz.info/ (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Website, maintained by Eric Gjovaag) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wonderful_Wizard_of_Oz (Wikipedia).
The 1900 Children’s Novel: https://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
L. Frank Baum (novelist, 1856-1919): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L._Frank_Baum (Wikipedia).
The Wizard of Oz (1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film): http://thewizardofoz.warnerbros.com/ (official website for the 1998 rerelease), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0032138/ (Internet Movie Database), http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/852/The-Wizard-of-Oz/ (TCM Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wizard_of_Oz_%281939_film%29 (Wikipedia).
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (1995 fantasy novel): http://www.harpercollins.com/9780060391447/wicked (HarperCollins Publishers web page), http://gregorymaguire.com/books/wicked.html (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicked_%28Maguire_novel%29 (Wikipedia).
The 1995 Fantasy Novel: https://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Gregory Maguire (novelist): http://gregorymaguire.com/ (official website), http://www.harpercollins.com/authors/6173 (HarperCollins Publishers bio), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregory_Maguire (Wikipedia).
Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz (2003 Broadway and 2006 West End musical): http://www.wickedthemusical.com/ (official website), http://www.musicalschwartz.com/wicked.htm (MusicalSchwartz.com), and http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?ID=11169 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.facebook.com/Wickedthemusical (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/wicked_musical (Twitter page), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicked_musical (Wikipedia), and https://www.youtube.com/user/OfficialWICKED (YouTube page).
Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics): http://www.stephenschwartz.com/ (official website), http://www.musicalschwartz.com/ (official website), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Schwartz_(composer) (Wikipedia).
Winnie Holzman (book): http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=107019 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winnie_Holzman (Wikipedia).
Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz (upcoming film): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1262426/ (Internet Movie Database).
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.