Review: 'Wicked' National Tour Soars

1:23 PM Amanda Prahl 0 Comments

We all have our favorite shows: the movies we own on DVD but still watch every time they're on TV, the books worn with rereadings. There's always a danger, though, that after so many repeats, these favorites might lose just a little of that spark and magic. Fortunately for me, that couldn't be further from the truth when it comes to the touring production of Wicked, a gleaming tour that more than lives up to the hype and its predecessors of years past. Thanks to magical production values, a gorgeous score, and a top-notch cast, the show impresses as much as ever.

Alyssa Fox and Carrie St. Louis as Elphaba and Glinda
Wicked begins not with the titular witch, but with her glittering blonde foil, Glinda, so that's where this review starts as well. Carrie St. Louis brings a combination of perky humor and real sympathy to the pink-clad mean-girl-turned-co-heroine. Her soprano is clear and pure, and yet, in quieter, more serious moments, her voice drops to a lower register, vocally highlighting the important gap between the public "Glinda the Good" and the real, flawed woman Glinda is in private. Of course, any Glinda is judged by her "Popular", and St. Louis throws herself (sometimes literally) into this shrewd comic gem with a delicious manic energy, like Clueless on caffeine. She absolutely holds up her end of the show's dual-lead structure.
Carrie St. Louis performs "Popular"
It isn't all about the witches, though, despite what the poster might have you think. Wicked's smaller characters give the story extra depth and, more often than not, a sense of real sadness beneath the show's glittering exterior. Lee Slobotkin as lovelorn Boq and Liana Hunt as frustrated Nessarose both infuse what could be minor roles with sympathy and a tinge of bitter grief. Ultimately, both characters just desperately want to be loved, and these actors truly convey how this pure want destroys them both. Hunt's "The Wicked Witch of the East" is particularly devastating.

The two most important male roles in the production are both played by actors who have just joined the tour on this stop- not that one could tell, given the confidence and sheer talent of their performances. Stuart Zagnit brings a mischievous warmth to the sort-of-villainous Wizard.
Stuart Zagnit performs "Wonderful"
"Wonderful" has always been a standout in Stephen Schwartz's score for its incisive lyrics beneath a vaudeville mask, and Zagnit hits every literal and figurative note.

But it's Jake Boyd as Fiyero, the carefree prince with hidden depths, who surprises. The challenge with Fiyero is that a lot of his character development happens between acts: it can be hard to find a way to transition from the smooth, lazy swagger seen in "Dancing Through Life" into a bold romantic hero.
Jake Boyd and Carrie St. Louis "dancing through life"
Boyd manages to let you see hints of the offstage frustrations one presume Fiyero goes through; we get to see his slow (and painful) realizations of his own depths and a genuine weariness with the charade as time goes on. With a rich, warm tenor that wraps gorgeously around songs like the underrated love ballad "As Long As You're Mine," he helps this character be so much more than just a love interest, but a boyish charmer turned genuine hero.
Fiyero and Elphaba profess their love in "As Long As You're Mine"

For better or worse, Wicked rests heavily on the broomstick of its Elphaba And Alyssa Fox rises above all the rest. Her natural chemistry with Boyd and, more importantly, St. Louis gives the show its heart- one truly feels their interactions. Fox's Elphaba alternates between fierce strength, a desperate desire to belong, and a deep-seated sense of vulnerability, along with a delightful dose of dry, sarcastic humor that remind us Elphaba isn't just a badass heroine, but a complicated young woman. We get to see her evolve from a prickly but optimistic student to a fierce rebel and, ultimately, a reflective, wise, good woman. Most exciting of all are her incredible riffs in songs like "The Wizard and I" and "No Good Deed," bringing a feeling of freshness to songs that have been heard so many times before. And when she is "Defying Gravity" at the end of Act One, acting and song merge in a moment of pure power and joy.

Elphaba casts her spell in "No Good Deed"
Wicked is an unusual show in many ways, not least of which is its emotional core as a female friendship, rather than a romance or even a "bromance." It's telling that the final, bittersweet duet between Elphaba and Glinda, "For Good", is one of the show's most iconic and moving moments- an emotional peak that leaves even Wicked-going veterans like myself in tears. And in a way, that sums up this show so well. It's not about expectations- rather, the opposite. It's a show about labels and media and politics; about love and grief and desperation; it's about choices and regrets and no regrets. Most of all, it's about the power of real, complicated, loving friendships to shape who we are and who we become, and to remind us (to borrow from another musical) no one is alone. And that, in the end, is what makes Wicked "wonderful" indeed.