Look, before seeing Wicked, I thought it must be somewhat overhyped. Practically theatre blasphemy, I know, but, in my defense, the bar was set pretty high. Soon after the curtain rose at the Orpheum theatre I realized just how wrong I was. Wicked exposes the untold story of The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West, and how she came to be known as wicked. This production, directed by Joe Mantello, may have its flaws, but it nevertheless captured the essence of the enthralling story. And it deserves the hype.
As Elphaba, Jessica Vosk had some high expectations to live up to – expectations that she had no trouble meeting. Her voice was absolutely breathtaking (“Defying Gravity” quite literally had me gasping out loud) and somehow, throughout the two-hour show scattered with intense belting solos, never once wavered. Vosk captured every aspect of the character – her traumatic childhood, her idealistic dreams, her compassion, her cynicism – and unfailingly upheld the balancing act of maintaining these complexities. Playing opposite of Vosk was Ginna Claire Mason as Glinda (with a “guh”). Mason conveyed the quirky, bubbly energy associated with Glinda without trivializing the internal struggles that she faces throughout the show. Though there were times Mason was slightly overshadowed by Vosk, particularly vocally, their overall chemistry made their scenes together extremely engaging, whether hilarious or heartbreaking. Though the ensemble delivered outstanding performances across the board, in my opinion there were no true standouts, and Vosk and Mason ultimately stole the show.
The talents of the chorus shone through the most in the intricately choreographed “Dancing Through Life”, during which I found myself wanting to watch them over the leads. For much of the show, however, I found their movement and even their vocal performance somewhat choppy and occasionally distracting, but it seemed to be stylistic direction choices that I found off-putting, rather than an incapable cast.
The visuals built by the show were one part of the production that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy as much as I did. The costumes were a striking mix of fantasy and reality, including such challenges as animal-human hybrids, while still being aesthetically pleasing. The lighting team, similarly, met the ambitious undertaking of making a person who was painted green not look like a zombie, while also creating appealing stage pictures. Some of the more show-specific technical aspects weren’t as spot-on. Glinda’s entrance was cut off, and some of the displays of Elphaba’s magic were underwhelming, but the work done with the fly system was always exciting. The only truly disappointing technical issues was that the mics seemed far too quiet, as though they were calibrated for the acoustics of a much smaller space, so it could be difficult to hear the actors.
I was expecting Wicked to be an entertaining show with a few show-stopping numbers. And it was. But it was also a mesmerizing culmination of stunning visuals, enthralling characters, and a vast array of heartfelt moments, all tied together by the iconic score, and I walked away regretting having ever underestimated Wicked.