A sold-out house Friday night at PlayhouseSquare’s State Theatre ate up the return of the mega-hit musical Wicked, which landed in Cleveland for the fourth time, just in time for a monthlong holiday run.
The first national tour of Wicked came to Cleveland in June 2006, and audiences are obviously hungry for more of the show’s thrilling theatrics, fabulous singing, ingenious staging and brilliant costumes.
The musical, which last played in Cleveland in 2009, is now being featured in its second national tour at PlayhouseSquare, running simultaneously with the first national tour as well as numerous overseas productions.
This intense tale of an unlikely friendship between a pariah green girl and bubble-gum-popular kind of gal just celebrated its 10th anniversary on Broadway Oct. 30. The production, based on the 1995 book by Gregory Maguire, explores themes of moral ambiguity, injustice, the nature of evil, and judging others based on appearance.
Jennifer DiNoia is an incredible vocal powerhouse and potent actress as Elphaba, the ultimate outsider who’s really just a misunderstood, highly intelligent girl. Hayley Podschun is delightfully ditzy as the beautiful but spoiled Glinda, creating a bit of an edge to the character that makes the story believable when Glinda’s eyes begin to be opened to the mistreatment and prejudice around her.
This is the back story between Glinda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West — characters everyone knows from The Wizard of Oz movie. In Wicked, we learn how these witches met and the friendship they shared.
Maguire’s book is darker and more twisted than the musical, which comes up with clever ways to explain how numerous elements of The Wizard of Oz story came about. That ranges from how Elphaba began wearing her pointy black hat and black cape and was introduced to flying on a broom to how the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow came to be.
In this cautionary tale, it’s frightening how seemingly benevolent characters are actually the dangerous ones, while others who are labeled as dangerous are really scapegoats for bravely standing up for what’s right.
DiNoia’s Elphaba reveals how a part of her hungers to fit in in the hopeful The Wizard And I, and how she yearns to be loved in the vulnerably beautiful I’m Not That Girl. DiNoia brings electrifying emotional complexity to her role as the misunderstood Elphaba, brought to angry, defiant heights in the character’s signature soaring Defying Gravity and No Good Deed. Elphaba’s romance with Fiyero also is intense, with David Nathan Perlow bringing a clean-cut, handsome persona to the role rather than the super-hunky, long-haired vibe other Fiyeros have created.
This second national Munchkinland Tour is every bit as strong as the first national Emerald City Tour I saw six years ago and the Broadway production (winner of three Tony Awards) I saw in 2011. The only tune that didn’t ring as strongly in this tour was the iconic duet For Good between Glinda and Elphaba, which came across as understated.
Northeast Ohio audiences will want to take note of Hudson High School graduate Bridie Carroll as Glinda’s cliquish friend Shen Shen, who’s comically conceited in some key Shiz school scenes. She’s also a strong dancer in the show’s top-notch ensemble, whose members morph from Citizens of Oz to students to Denizens of the Emerald City, dressed in boldly outlandish green ensembles.
In another Northeast Ohio link, one of the musical's producers is the Araca Group, founded by Hank Unger and brothers Matthew and Michael Rego, who are Bay Village and Rocky River natives, respectively.
Costumes by Susan Hilferty have awesome silhouettes with large, jutting, angular skirts and off-kilter, oversized wigs.
This show’s high-tech stage magic ranges from a cool animatronic face of the “Wizard” to two flying monkeys, led Friday night by the supple-limbed Ryan Patrick Farrell as Chistery.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.