Say what you will about “Wicked” – there’s no disputing the fact that it’s the most popular Broadway musical of the past decade, running for ten years in New York and London, with productions in Mexico, Korea, and Japan, plus four touring companies.
“Wicked” also does lots of repeat business -- and you could sense the fans’ anticipation when the show returned to Sacramento – the cheering began as the house lights dimmed.
What keeps bringing them back? Frankly, the show hasn’t changed much since the last time we saw it. The audience responds to the familiar story and the Wizard of Oz characters they instantly recognize. Especially black-clad Elphaba, who has a misfit attitude, green skin, and a voice designed for belting out the show’s big numbers.
“Wicked” also borrows from “Peter Pan” and “Mary Poppins,” and gets several cast members airborne on wires.
This show is a carefully crafted mix of special effects, iconic visual quotations, and smooth soft rock anthems, drenched in stage fog. It trades on novelty and pop culture recognition more than anything. The fun comes from spotting these transformations as they pop up in scene after scene – it’s almost like a game. And the technical stagecraft is phenomenal – even in this touring production, huge pieces of scenery fly in and out, and the major characters sport ever more elaborate costumes. And if the story’s a bit threadbare… well, you don’t go see this kind of show for the plot.
Truth is, “Wicked” was designed from the git-go to function more like a movie than a Broadway show. In fact, Universal Studios is one of the show’s major backers, and the inevitable cinematic version of “Wicked” can’t be far off. In the meantime, fans can enjoy this live action, theatrical version for a little bit longer.
Broadway Sacramento presents "Wicked" through June 15, 2014 at the Community Center Theatre.
Listen to an NPR interview with Stephen Schwartz, who composed the songs for "Wicked."