By Kimberly Harper
If you’re at all into musical theater, it’s probably a safe bet that you’ve already seen Wicked at some point, but it’s one of those shows that’s pretty timeless and definitely a treat every time you go. The tour currently at PPAC is no exception, and if you’ve somehow missed seeing it in the past decade, it’s well worth your time to check it out.
The musical masterpiece by Stephen Schwartz (which lost a well-deserved “Best Musical” Tony Award to Avenue Q back in 2004) tells the back story of two of fiction’s most famous witches – Glinda the Good, and Elphaba, aka the Wicked Witch of the West – though as we learn, adjectives like “good,” “wonderful” and “wicked” are entirely subjective. One popular, one brainy, one beautiful, one green, Galinda (no, it’s not a typo) and Elphaba aren’t fast friends, but they forge a bond through each other’s strengths and find their lives forever intertwined as a result. The majority of the story takes place well before Dorothy’s house drops down on Elphaba’s sister, the Witch of the East. In fact, Dorothy’s only stage presence is in shadow. And she’s hardly a sympathetic character. “I mean, who steals a dead woman’s shoes?” Elphaba demands at one point, over the piped-in sounds of someone crying. “Must have been raised in a barn!”
The show pays homage to both L. Frank Baum’s books and the 1930s film, as well as remaining mostly true to Gregory Maguire’s novel “Wicked,” though it is a stripped down version of the heavily politically-themed tome. But there’s still plenty of relevant commentary in there (and given when the show opened, you’ll never convince me that every antagonist in power constantly mispronouncing big words isn’t a jab at George W. Bush) that gives the show some extra weight.
I’ve never seen a bad Wicked cast, and this one is no exception. Jessica Vosk as Elphaba and Amanda Jane Cooper as Galinda are fabulous. Vosk as the serious student put up against Cooper as the bubbly, intellectually incurious prom queen is hilarious. They both have gorgeous voices, and sing their Act 2 duet “For Good” beautifully, but truly shine in their solos. Vosk brings the house down at the end of Act 1 with “Defying Gravity” where, after realizing the full potential of her powers, she quite literally does just that, flying up off the stage as her voice fills the room. (As an aside, the entire show is beautifully lit, taking “theater magic” to a whole new level.) Cooper powerfully opens Act 2 with “Thank Goodness,” in which she realizes getting everything she wants guarantees her exactly nothing in the happiness department. The supporting roles and ensemble are equally well-cast, creating an auditory treat for audience members.
I already mentioned the ingenious lighting design, which comes courtesy of Kenneth Posner. The costumes, designed by Susan Hilferty are bright (green, often) and beautiful and the sets, designed by Trinity Rep’s resident set designer Eugene Lee, look great on PPAC’s stage. Hilferty and Lee each won Tony awards in 2004 for best costume design and sets, respectively, and rightfully so.
All in all, this production of Wicked is unsurprisingly great. Get your tickets and enjoy a guaranteed great night (or afternoon) of theater.
“Wicked” runs through Oct. 8 at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence, RI. Tickets start at $32 and may be obtained by calling (401) 421-2787, or visit ppacri.org. They may also be purchased at the box office at the theater (check online for hours).