I have a fairly illustrious history with the musical “Wicked,” the inventive prequel to “The Wizard of Oz.” I had bought tickets to attend the open-ended run in San Francisco back in 2009, and was on my way to the restroom when I found out I had been hired for a website to cover theatre in San Jose. So “Wicked” was one of the last shows I attended where I didn’t have something to articulate for a reader when the curtain closed.
But the more illustrious part of the history comes courtesy of my daughter Veronica, who first experienced the musical a year later at four-years-old. Both my daughters love the show, in all its glorious, Ozian excess. And both were floored by the show, amazed by both the simplicity of many punny and warm jokes courtesy of Winnie Holzman’s book, as well as the complexity of pure Broadway spectacle that “Wicked” offers.
Both of my older girls have enjoyed different musicals at different points in their life, while my two-year-old bounces her head to anything. Right now, my oldest is all about “Bring it On” and “In the Heights.” At a time, they were both feeling “Annie,” sure to make a return with the new movie on the horizon. But their biggest phase has most certainly been about “Wicked.”
Veronica has always been a good sleeper and a good napper. One time, she actually slept until noon. For my wife and I, that concept exists in a foreign land a few bedrooms away. So as one could imagine, waking her up early has always been a challenge. But we found something that worked like magic.
In Galinda’s opening number “No One Mourns the Wicked,” about halfway through the song, a midwife begins to sing about Elphaba being born. “The baby’s coming” shouts the midwife.
I don’t know exactly when it happened, but I was playing the soundtrack early one morning, and at that very moment of the midwife’s lines, Veronica woke up running around the house screaming.
“The baby’s coming, the baby’s coming!,” she exclaimed. But she was not singing along. No, she was running around the house, letting all of us know that the green baby was actually coming. Now whatever the hell we were supposed to do with that information, I couldn’t tell you. But she was awake. And for weeks, “No One Mourns the Wicked” was the alarm clock.
So because of memories like these, “Wicked” always feels very good. And this is no different in Broadway San Jose’s joyous production, which has a rare, three-week landing in the South Bay.
The storyline is familiar – Elphaba (Emmy Raver-Lampman, a standby who performed on opening night) arrives at Shiz University, and by accident, ends up rooming with prissy and chirpy blonde Galinda (Chandra Lee Schwartz who showcased her gift for comic timing). Initially repulsed by each other with not much in common, both girls form a friendship based on a cruel practical joke, and begin to define a powerful bond, despite other bumps in the road along the way.
Those “Wicked” faithful, who have probably attended more performances than a baseball season ticket holder attends games, will not be disappointed by the show in San Jose. Casting is certainly solid, with lots of theatre muscle on display amongst the principals.
Initially, I wasn’t clear on what to make of Raver-Lampman’s voice. She certainly carries a beautiful instrument, but a steady diet of Teal Wicks, Eden Espinosa and Idina Menzel may have clouded my judgment. Her voice was a tad on the deeper side, yet she completely hit her stride as the show moved on, belting with an effortless power, completely nailing some of the most iconic notes the character offers.
(I have to digress for a second – this was the first time I’d seen the show where people did not cheer for Elphaba’s entrance. C’mon people, Elphaba walks on with her suitcase, looks out, we clap. Not that hard. OK, I’m better now.)
Schwartz has the benefit of playing someone who is utterly charming and likeable. Galinda is harmless, albeit sometimes snivelish and conniving, but certainly turns around her manipulative ways. Schwartz is on par with many solid Galinda’s both vocally and physically.
Other characters were solid. Jenny Florkowski’s portrayal of Nessarose had just the right amount of sharpness without heading onto the road of Sappyville. Etai BenShlomo’s portrayal of Boq is rooted in lots of years and experience in the role (He played Boq in San Francisco back in 2010 during the open-ended run at the Orpheum Theatre, in addtion to Broadway.) And Nick Adams is a charmer, with sharp dancing and solid vocals in the role of Fiyero, a hunky mental midget who makes Narcissus look positively humble. Alison Fraser’s masterful control of that gravelly throated horrible Madame Morrible was extremely effective. And Tim Kazurinsky, who many remember in the early 1980’s on Saturday Night Live, did a bang-up job as the conflicted Wizard, showing his skills as a throwback song and dance man.
Without a doubt, this production is certainly what it should be – big, bold and green as anything. And who knows, if my two-year-old girl has trouble waking up in the future, we just might try turning up the volume when that green little baby is born.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Broadway San Jose presents “Wicked”
Book by Winnie Holzman
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
The Word: A faithful version of the musical lands in San Jose that is still selling big on Broadway.
Stars: 4.5 out of 5
Tickets range from $25 – $178
Through Sept. 14th
San Jose Center for Performing Arts
255 Almaden Boulevard San Jose, CA 95113
For more information, call (800) 982-ARTS (2787) or visit the official website