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October 18, 2011 - Burt Angeli
"Wicked," which is playing at New York's lovely Gershwin Theatre, tells the story of the Wicked Witch of the West from the classic film "The Wizard of Oz."
In this morality play set to music, the age old question of the origin of evil is examined: are people born evil or driven to become evil? This is Elphaba's tale and tells of her transformation from a misfit into the witch.
Born with a green complexion, keen intellect and cackling laugh, the unpopular Elphaba is destined for a life of trials. From childhood, she unjustly believes that she is the cause of her sister's paralysis and their mother's death.
The sisters are sent to a girls' college where Elphaba becomes the roommate of the Galinda, the future Glinda, the Good Witch of Oz.
The relationship between the mismatched roommates and their competition for the love of Fiyero forms the plot.
Unlike the intellectual Elphaba, Galinda is shallow and narcissistic. She is willing to turn a blind eye to the injustices in Oz, being content to simply go along with crowd.
The quintessential dumb blonde, she serves up much of the play's humor. (The crowd howled as she casually dismissed Dorothy and her little dog "Dodo.")
Elphaba's idealism and misuse of her magical powers in an attempt to free animals result in her banishment from the oppressive land of Oz and seals her reputation as a wicked witch.
The origins of the characters of Oz — the scarecrow, cowardly lion, tin man and Dorothy (and her famous ruby slippers) — are revealed in the play.
As for the play's wizard, he is a far more sinister character than the bumbling, opportunistic traveling salesman played by the genial Frank Morgan in the movie. (And speaking of the beloved actor Frank Morgan, the poor scapegoat, Dr. Dillamond, strikes a similar note to the ill-fated gentle Professor Roth in the movie "The Mortal Storm." In like manner, the evil guards of "Wicked" bear a frightening resemblance to the horrible Nazi SS.)
The character of the headmistress, Madame Morrible, (Kathy Fitzgerald) whose abundant bustle could easily wipe out half of munchkin land, conjures up memories of the irrepressible Hermione Gingold's character Eulalie Shin in "The Music Man."
While some might miss the original Oz's "Over the Rainbow," this Stephen Schwartz musical has its high points.
The audience roared its approval for Elphaba's soaring "Defying Gravity" and the beautiful duet "For Good" of Glinda (Chandra Lee Schwartz) and Elphaba (Jackie Burns) is touching.
For the theatre goer who is lucky enough to take in "Wicked," should one take to heart its message of tolerance, gentleness to all creatures and the transformative power of friendship, one just might be "changed for the good" — if, just a little — for having seen this enchanting musical experience. (Regina M. Angeli)
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