Wicked

The musical “Wicked” has returned to The Opera House in Boston bringing a burst of color to the city’s autumn arts scene. It’s interesting, though, that a show that features a lead character with bright green skin is really all about the grey. Nothing is black and white – or in this case – green and white in “Wicked.”

This alternate take on “The Wizard of Oz” gives us a very different view of Elphaba – the Wicked Witch of the West – and Glinda – the Good Witch of the North. A story that resonates with the complexities of life on our side of the rainbow. Is the difference between good and evil always so clear? Can differences that seem insurmountable actually bring us closer together?

Wow. That seems pretty heavy – and it is – but when it’s all put together in a sparkling piece of musical theatre, everyone gets to take away whatever story thread they like best. Based on the far darker – but equally brilliant – novel “Wicked” by Concord-based author Gregory Maguire, the musical “Wicked” is a marvel of great songs, great characters – and in the right hands – great performances. The Boston production gets all three.

Victoria Matlock is just about everything you could wish for in the green tornado that is Elphaba. Her voice has the power to carry showstopping numbers like “Defying Gravity” and “As Long As You’re Mine,” but she also has the subtlety for the gentle and heartbreaking “I’m Not That Girl.” Warm, confident, and heroic she’s an Elphaba every outcast or underdog can rally around.

As good as Matlock is, Christina DeCicco comes very close to sweeping this show away from her. DeCicco’s Glinda is an acting and singing dynamo. She doesn’t rely on the songs or her costumes to get her by, she’s got enough character bits in her floating bubble to keep you riveted on her every move. I felt like if I took my eyes off of her I’d miss something! DeCicco does wonders with the song “Popular” which can be mean spirited in the wrong hands, and she brings a wonderful “Evita”-vibe to the Act II opener “Thank Goodness.” In not shying away from Glinda’s shallowness, DeCicco also gives her character more depth and complexity.

If we’re going to talk shallow, we need to talk about Fiyero. Cliffton Hall does nice work with “Wicked’s” Mr. Smooth. You’ve got to believe this guy can make the ladies swoon – and you do.

P.J. Benjamin adds a much needed dash of seasoned cynicism as The Wizard. He’s got just the right touch of snake oil salesman melded to song and dance man.

Other cast standouts include Tom Flynn as Dr. Dillamond. His heavy makeup as a goat who teaches at Shiz University does not hide his character’s touching humility and humanity. Same goes for Philip Dean Lightstone, who in the show I saw, played the winged-monkey Chistery.

A big question that always comes up when a Broadway show plays Boston is, “is it worth it? The logic being you’re paying New York prices for a touring production. In this case the answer is a resounding “Yes.” The talent on stage is every bit as compelling as what you’ll see on Broadway – though the company may have fewer members. Some of that has to do with the size of The Opera House’s stage – it’s a mid-sized venue for a very big show. The costumes and set design are absolutely top notch – ditto the special effects. I wish, however, the orchestra made a louder statement – too often they were too muted.

“Wicked” is a force of nature for a reason. Stephen Schwartz has written timeless music for a show that writer Winnie Holzman cleverly adapted. There are twists that don’t appear in the novel that have a profound effect on the musical. I don’t love them all, but Holzman found a way to give the show an ending that would send everyone home on a high note. No grey area there!

There’s so much to love and admire in “Wicked.” The moments when Elphaba and Glinda bond and true friendship begins to form are powerful and poignant. Elphaba’s green hand gently clasping the porcelain white arm of Glinda speaks on so many different levels. So does the embrace between Victoria Matlock and Christina DeCicco during the curtain call. The magic of “Wicked” spreads well beyond The Opera House.

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