“Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz” is an award-winning Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Stephan Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman, based on Gregory Maguire’s extraordinary 1995 novel that forever changes your view of the classic Wizard of Oz. Spinning the coming-of-age tale of two unlikely friends (or foes), “Wicked” delivers a stunning, tumultuous backstory that is relevant to us all as our favorite witches experience the struggle of growing up, pain of a love rivalry, consequence of a corrupt government and ultimately, the true meaning of friendship. In a timely reminder that “there’s no place like home,” Broadway in Cincinnati’s “Wicked” soars into the Aronoff Center with breathtaking set and costume designs, phenomenal talent, and a story that takes you on a heartbreaking yet hilarious journey through Oz.
In a show that is fabulous on all levels, why don’t we start with the most fabulous of all? Elphaba and Galinda (aka Glinda), who view the world from opposing points of view and drastically different personalities, steal your heart from the first note and manage to convince you that the line between good and evil is a lot thinner and harder to decipher than you may think. Elphaba, played superbly by Chelsea Emma Franko (filling in for Jessica Vosk), will make you laugh as much as you cry with her hilarious, emotive acting and a voice that soars even higher than she does when she tries “Defying Gravity” (which my daughter has still not stopped singing). Galinda, played with flawless, Legally Blonde-esque humor by Ginna Claire Mason, quite possibly makes the show with her wickedly accurate portrayal of a bubbly blonde with hidden depths and a voice that ranges from hilariously perky in “Popular” (my 7-year-old’s FAVORITE song!) to heart-wrenchingly beautiful in “For Good.” Together, they transform any preconceived notions you may have had about the Land of Oz and take you on the best possible journey of discovery, betrayal and friendship. They remind us that “people come into our lives for a reason,” and that “everyone deserves a chance to fly,” even—and maybe especially—if they look and act different than us.
While our two favorite witches steal the show, the rest of the ensemble cast make it possible for them to do so. Isabel Keating, as Madame Morrible, is deliciously horrible on so many levels that you are hard-pressed to not cackle upon her every appearance. Boq (Sam Seferian) and Nessarose (Catherine Charlebois) deliver their understated and complicated characters to perfection, enabling genuine surprise at their ultimate transformation, even for those of us who know the story well. But by far the most noble (and surprising) of characters is Fiyero, played by Captain America-esque Jon Robert Hall with a swoon-worthy appearance, melodically beautiful voice, and who proves the truth antithesis of his hilarious line, “I’m a hundred percent callow and deeply shallow.” The connection of the main characters, coupled with the razzle-dazzle ensemble of flying monkeys, students and the denizens of Emerald City, will make you wish for an opportunity to visit Oz. The confluence of circumstances, corruption and choices help everyone to understand that there are “shades of green” to us all.
However, the show would not be what it is without the amazing sets, costumes and effects. From bubbles and streamers to dragons and flying monkeys, this show delivers on the idea that “I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore.” For those with younger children and/or those who have recently watched a few too many trailers for Stephen King’s “It,” the monkeys are mildly terrifying until you realize that the underlying story is shining a light on the injustice of animal cruelty and the importance of allowing everyone, green and fuzzy alike, to have a voice. In a show where the music is breathtaking and every lyric is meaningful, the lighting and technical effects beautifully highlight critical moments in a way that will imprint them on your memory forever. The intricately woven tales, effects and callbacks to “The Wizard of Oz” create a figurative—and literal—twister of fate.
Similar to how the original 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz” changed our view of movies forever by introducing us to color, “Wicked” will change your view on what it means to experience a musical that hits every note. And for those paying close attention, the show is permeated with important life lessons, like my daughter’s personal favorite: “Some things I cannot change, but ‘til I try I’ll never know,” encouraging all of us to keep making a difference and standing up for what we believe in. I can find no better way to summarize our experience with “Wicked” than with the line, “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”
May you always feel green and strong enough to stand up for yourself and say, in the immortal words of Elphaba, “Well, we can’t all come and go by bubble!” Don’t miss “Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz” at the Aronoff Center, running now through October 15. For those of you with foodie tendencies such as my own, don’t miss Boca’s prix fixe Wicked Pre-Theater Menu and Wicked-inspired Cocktails. It will leave you replete and filled with anticipatory happiness.
Christi Geary is the proud mom of two girls 10 and under, best friend and wife of her husband Brian, and an Associate Director at the Procter & Gamble Company focused on shopper and innovation insights and analytics. She enjoys art of all kinds, feeds an insatiable curiosity for learning, pursues different forms of exercise when she can find the time to balance out her foodie predilection, and delights in spending time with family and friends.