Wicked was one of my very first musical theater loves. I have grown up loving this show and knowing every lyric by heart. Still, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it live. The last time I saw the show, I was much younger. In the meantime I have experienced more of the life events that are depicted in the show. I’ve been to college, made unexpected friendships and been disappointed by authority figures. All this is to say, that I saw Wicked at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts from a perspective that I had never considered before.
It is fitting. After all, the play is all about shifting the audience's perspective of a story they already know. If you’ve never heard of Wicked (What are you doing? Go buy your tickets right now!), it’s a musical that tells the story of the Wicked Witch of the West from L. Frank Baum’s children’s book, The Wizard of Oz. But it tells the story of an unlikely heroine rather than an unlikable villain. Elphaba (later known as the Wicked Witch), was born with green skin and an uncanny gift for magic. She goes to college with her sister, Nessa Rose (later the Wicked Witch of the East), and meets people that will change her life including Glinda (the future Good Witch of the North). Struggling to fit in and certainly not popular, Elphaba nonetheless excels in her classes and forges strong bonds with her new best friend, Glinda, and school bad-boy, Fiyero. She becomes an accidental freedom fighter for the talking animals of Oz and eventually discovers the truth about the Wizard that Dorothy would later find out—that he’s a fraud. Unlike Dorothy, Elphaba rails against this deception and literally flies off, following her own moral compass that leads to her being labeled “wicked.”
The show is billed as The Wizard of Oz from the villain's perspective—but seeing the show again after so long, I realized that this is not completely true. First of all, our narrator is really Glinda, the Good Witch and Elphaba’s best friend. Secondly, the show doesn’t so much flip Dorothy’s story on its head, as it tells a more grown-up version of the same story. Elphaba’s story shares many of the same beats as Dorothy’s, and eventually, teaches the audience the same lesson. Both stories teach the importance of friendship, the value of questioning authority and the power of learning to save oneself.
In this production, Erin Mackey’s performance as Glinda particularly stands out. In Wicked, Glinda is a complex and difficult role to play. An actress must have a particularly large vocal range just to perform the part, but Mackey also brings an intense humanity to her performance of Glinda. The character is inherently bubbly, and to an extent, airheaded. However Mackey really focuses on the moments of doubt and empathy as the character grows over the course of the show. Mackey’s choices of how to express the character’s many moments of comedy and fewer moments of doubt really elevated the character and the show as a whole.
Also, Tom Flynn, who plays the relatively minor character of Dr. Dillamond, is spectacular. As he’s played the character in over 3,000 performances on Broadway and around the country, his impressive portrayal of the character really shouldn’t be surprising. Going back through my records, I realized that he actually played Dr. Dillamond in the first production I ever saw of Wicked over a decade ago. That stated, something about his performance this time really made me empathize with the character in a way I never had before. His people are being hunted down and eliminated in a Nazi-esque fashion, so his song, “Something Bad,” has always been worrisome and important to the plot of the play. But this time, I felt deeply troubled and invested in helping him in a way I never had before. In this performance, he felt much more like a person in the real world today that I wanted to help—despite the fact that he’s a talking goat.
In short, definitely go see this show. Honestly, I can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t want to see Wicked at any opportunity. Stephen Schwartz’s music and lyrics are fantastic and multi-layered, the costumes and sets are extraordinary and the story is thoughtful, heartfelt and exciting. Furthermore, Erin Mackey is a must-see Glinda as her wonderful performance makes the character seem even more real than usual.
Wicked is playing at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 S. Almaden Boulevard, now through September 8, 2019. The show runs about two-and-a-half hours with one 15-minute intermission.
Photos courtesy of Joan Marcus