This is the third time Wicked has graced Proctors’ stage, but you couldn’t tell by the audience–the theater Thursday night was packed. Whether people were seeing it for the first time in Schenectady or the third (like I was) the response seemed to be unanimous—the show is a hit.
In case anyone hasn’t caught it yet, Wicked (based on the novel written by University at Albany alumnus Gregory Maguire) is the backstory of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, and Glinda, the good witch, from The Wizard of Oz. Stephen Schwartz wrote the music and lyrics, and they’re beautiful and powerful. It’s a strong piece of theater.
This tour’s Elphaba (Jessica Vosk) and Glinda (Amanda Jane Cooper) were very strong in their roles. The original Broadway Elphaba and Glinda—Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth—are so iconic that it’s easy to copy their versions of the characters; I was pleased to see the actresses here making the characters their own. It’s already been 14 years since it opened on Broadway; I believe actresses in the lead roles will move further away from the standard as years pass because they’ll have forgotten what the standard was. Vosk sang her songs—especially “The Wizard and I”—with her own spin on them, which was nice to hear (if I wanted to hear the original cast album, I own it) and Cooper’s Glinda was Glinda taken to the next level—not only the prissy, giggly Glinda we know and love, but goofier than normal in an endearing way. They worked well together and were infinitely watchable.
This is my first time watching the show since the election, and it didn’t escape my attention that the plot had a whole new resonance this time around. The talking animals in Oz—full citizens up until now—are slowly being taken away, their voices lost, and caged; as the story unfolds, we find out who’s doing it and why. “Where I’m from, the best way to bring people together . . . is to give them a really good enemy,” the culprit says, and in today’s political climate, it brings a chill to the viewer to realize a show written many years ago is prescient enough to reflect what’s currently unfolding. (Even more so, when Elphaba attempts to fight back against the injustice, she, too, is now the enemy—both for daring to speak up and the color of her skin.) It’s the sign of a good show that it works on many levels; it’s the sign of a great show that it keeps unfolding for you upon repeated viewing.
Perhaps the best indicator of how well the night went was the audience reaction: a viewer who, when someone was slapped, involuntarily said “punch her!” a little louder than intended, another who audibly gasped when a huge set piece lit up and moved. This is a show you react to on a visceral level. And if it comes back to Proctors? Yes, I’ll absolutely go see it again.
Wicked, Proctors, Feb. 4.