In the merry old land of Oz, before a girl from Kansas dropped in while riding a twister, two girls met at college.
One is blonde and bubbly – ditzy, some would say – who is wildly popular and profoundly ambitious. The other is emerald green, an outcast used to being shunned and well-practiced at putting up a strong front. They are opposites. They loathe each other instantly. And they’re roommates.
This is the setup of “Wicked,” the mega-hit Broadway musical based on Gregory Maguire’s novel that creates a new backstory for Oz’s two most famous witches – Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, and Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. The Tony-winning musical is at the front end of an extended run in Spokane as the finale of West Coast Entertainment’s Best of Broadway season.
“Wicked” presents an elaborate set with steampunk flair – lots of gears and cogs and gizmos. A giant mechanical dragon hangs above the stage. The famous wizard is not presented as a green-faced hologram, but as a giant robotic face with glowing eyes. It is a sight to behold.
As for the performances, there are many to note, but none as impressive as Kara Lindsay as Glinda. She’s a riot as the dizzy blonde who is used to getting her way, and is deeply shocked when it doesn’t happen. Sharp-eyed veterans of the Best of Broadway series might recognize Lindsay from the last time she was in Spokane in 2010 as Laura Ingalls in “Little House on the Prairie: The Musical.” As Glinda, she’s beautiful, self-centered and not too bright. You don’t want to like her, but you do. Her talent clearly shines through.
As Elphaba, Laurel Harris has the harder job. Her witch is smart and serious, but only at college to care for her wheelchair-bound sister, Nessarose (Emily Behny). Harris does a lovely job of humanizing Elphaba, making her struggles relatable to all in the audience. She makes a great first impression with her opening number, “The Wizard and I,” sung with college headmistress Madame Morrible (Kathy Fitzgerald). Her turn in the Act I closer “Defying Gravity” was quite powerful.
Harris and Lindsay let their comedy chops show in the back-to-back numbers “Dancing Through Life” – in which Elphaba and Glinda engage in a comical dance-off, sans music – and “Popular,” in which Glinda attempts a makeover of her new friend. Both numbers are engaging and lively, with “Popular” especially a highlight of Act I.
Elphaba at last gets what she wants – an opportunity to meet the Wizard (Gene Weygandt). When she learns he wants to use her powers for reasons she deems indefensible, she flees, sealing her outcast status. Glinda, despite being worried about her friend, lets her ambition take over, and she joins forces with the Wizard as the act comes to a close.
Act II begins with the Oz propaganda machine in full force. Elphaba is wicked. Glinda is good – and she’s about to be married to Fiyero (Matt Shingledecker), a Winkie prince both she and Elphaba had their eyes on at school. Only Fiyero, having fallen for Elphaba, wants nothing to do with Glinda.
We see plenty of allusions to the famous movie in Act II, and some of the plotlines feed right into that iconic tale. Others, however, are contradictory. No spoilers here, though.
While “Wicked” features a star turn from one witch and an inspiring turn from the other, the show isn’t perfect. As has been my frequent complaint at these touring shows, the sound was off on Thursday, and many of the vocals were obscured by the orchestra. A plotline involving Elphaba’s true parentage seems slapdash and rather inconsequential. The animal rights plot, a key part of the novel, is given such short shrift that it seems almost better to have left it out completely. Because, really, the central relationship in “Wicked” is the one between Elphaba and Glinda.
And I’m still trying to figure out the point of that dragon.