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Wicked (Review)

Touring production is certifiable, guaranteed entertainment

By Rick Pender · March 8th, 2014 · Onstage
wicked2Gina Beck and Alison Luff in Wicked - Photo: Joan Marcus
The word I use to describe the Broadway musical hit Wicked is “juggernaut,” defined as “an overwhelming advancing force or event.” Back in 2003 the show launched the careers of power singer Idina Menzel (who John Travolta introduced as “Adele Dazeem” at the Oscars) and the effervescent Kristin Chenoweth as the opposing witches in this prequel to The Wizard of Oz; both were nominated for Tony Awards; Menzel won. (The show has worldwide productions in London, Japan, Germany, Australia and beyond.) It marked its tenth anniversary on Broadway in October, and it has surpassed 4,300 performances. A national touring production began in 2005; a second tour was added in 2009. For the third time, a tour stop is at downtown Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center, this month for a three-week run. Wicked has broken local attendance records previously and will certainly do so again. There’s no denying its appeal.

That being said, I need to add that if you’ve seen Wicked on Broadway (or at the Aronoff), you won’t see anything new.

It’s spectacular eye candy. Eugene Lee’s eye-popping, Technicolor scenic design (especially Emerald City) and Susan Hilferty’s zany, over-the-top costumes both won 2004 Tony Awards, and they are just as vibrant on tour. Nothing about Wicked really changes except the performers. In fact, predictability seems to be what keeps people coming back. A middle-aged woman near me bragged about driving from Lexington to see it for the fifth time; she was with a friend who has attended six performances. But teenage girls continue to sustain Wicked’s popularity, flocking to the story of friendship and girl power. They were there opening night and loved it.

Alison Luff and Gina Beck nicely fill the central roles of Elphaba (the “wicked” one, born green but with magical powers) and Glinda (the “good” one, who sparkles but is a major prima donna). Of course, they strive to replicate the performances of Menzel and Chenoweth on Broadway: Luff belts out “Defying Gravity” with emotion, Beck scores with the jaunty “Popular” and they harmonize gorgeously on “For Good.”

If you’ve seen Wicked before, you won’t see anything new. And that’s what most people want. There’s nothing disappointing about this production: Audiences come to Wicked because they already love it and want to see it again (and again). It’s certifiable, guaranteed entertainment. And that’s what they’re getting.

WICKED, presented Broadway Across America at the Aronoff Center, continues through March 23.



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