“No one mourns the wicked,” sang the residents of Oz as the blockbuster musical opened its four-week run at Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center. In truth, everyone loves the Wicked: This is the third long visit to our city for a show that’s had more than 3,300 performances on Broadway since 2003. Stephen Schwartz’s Wizard of Oz-inspired musical about the green witch has become a cultural icon for adolescent girls who yearn for freedom and success. Thousands, with or without their families, will flock downtown between now and Thanksgiving weekend, and they won’t be disappointed.
Mamie Parris portrays Elphaba as a character with depth and emotion. We feel her embarrassment, we resonate with her yearning to overcome obstacles, we suffer from her social ostracism and we sense her desire for both justice and acceptance.
What’s more, we love her songs, especially the sorrowful “I’m Not That Girl” and even more her anthemic “Defying Gravity.”
Tours strive to replicate the Broadway experience, and this one does a dazzling job with its eye-popping (and constantly changing) costumes, dazzling and fluidly changing sets (the visit to the Emerald City is spectacular), flying effects and giant talking heads, energetic choreography and more. But it saddens me to watch Amanda Jane Cooper, who tries to recreate the antics of Kristin Chenoweth, the original Glinda, Elphaba’s “popular” rival. I’d rather see Cooper make the role her own instead of reaching for vocal effects and physical bits that feel more mechanical than natural. Sure, it’s fun — but the role needs more of this actress’s own spunk. If this is your first time to see Wicked, you won’t feel let down, but this mimicry diminishes the potentially powerful interaction between Glinda and Elphaba, a connection you should feel powerfully in “For Good,” the closing number about how bettered each other’s lives.
WICKED, presented by Broadway Across America at the Aronoff Center, continues through Nov. 26.