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Wicked
THEATER REVIEW
by Steven Chaitman
2013-11-06

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Music and Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz Book: Winnie Holtzman. At: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St. Tickets: 773-975-8150. www.BroadwayinChicago.com; Start at $40. Runs through: Dec. 21

Has it really been 10 years already since Wicked arrived on Broadway? It's hard to imagine that a musical so contemporary in both music and stage spectacle has already aged a decade. Yet even in that short time, there's something ageless about the Stephen Schwartz musical, which might explain why in 10 years, this latest tour is the fourth iteration of the Best Musical winner in Chicago following the 2005 and 2010 tour stops and the three-and-a-half year sit-down production in between.

It would be hard to make a case against Wicked as the best musical of the 21st century thus far ( hey, there have been a lot of great shows in the last 13 years ) and this cast provides a reminder that the "untold story of the witches of Oz" is just as charming, fantastical and universally lovable as it was when Idina Menzel first sported the green body paint.

Alison Luff and Jenn Gambatese star as Elphaba and Galinda, better known as The Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch, in the story of how these seeming rivals were actually friends, and that everything you know from The Wizard of Oz isn't quite what it seems. If you've never seen Wicked, there's no reason to hold out any longer; it's in town through just before Christmas, and is a surer bet than most of the holiday shows it will compete with.

The astounding production value of Wicked hasn't changed in 10 years, naturally, nor has Schwartz's soaring, thematic score, so the spotlight shines brightest on new stars Luff and Gambatese—and what a pair they are.

Gambatese, whose Broadway credits include Jane in Tarzan and Natalie in All Shook Up, brings her own spunk and spirit to Glinda, adding substantial comic value to the already bubbly character. In terms of things in a musical that age well, humor isn't always one of them, yet Gambatese makes Glinda feel fresh, in a way that can only be described as channeling actress Kristen Wiig. Somehow she transforms the show's lightest number, "Popular," into a rousing anthem—and she delivers on the back end too, perfectly capturing Glinda's conflict of interest between rising fame in Oz and her relationship with "Elphie."

Luff makes it clear she's cut out for Elphaba the moment she opens her mouth for "The Wizard and I." She sings powerfully and with totally pristine sound throughout the show and does it with such apparent ease that when it comes time for her defining moment, the first-act climax "Defying Gravity," you're dying to know just what will happen when she lets it all loose. More impressively than all that, however, she puts as much passion into giving Elphaba a multidimensional personality and conveying the various emotions of her whirlwind transformation from quiet outcast to the defiant and determined Wicked Witch.

The supporting cast fills in nicely and the clever way Winnie Holtzman's book works in elements of The Wizard of Oz continues to add excitement to this show even on repeat viewings, but Luff and Gambatese are the reminder of why Wicked has become the international phenomenon it has. Glinda and Elphaba are powerful, complex and musically exhilarating roles for women, and they make the magic of Oz and Schwartz's music come alive.

Wicked

Music and Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz

Book: Winnie Holtzman

At: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St.

Tickets: 773-975-8150

www.BroadwayinChicago.com; Start at $40

Runs through: Dec. 21

BY STEVEN CHAITMAN

Has it really been 10 years already since Wicked arrived on Broadway? It's hard to imagine that a musical so contemporary in both music and stage spectacle has already aged a decade. Yet even in that short time, there's something ageless about the Stephen Schwartz musical, which might explain why in 10 years, this latest tour is the fourth iteration of the Best Musical winner in Chicago following the 2005 and 2010 tour stops and the three-and-a-half year sit-down production in between.

It would be hard to make a case against Wicked as the best musical of the 21st century thus far ( hey, there have been a lot of great shows in the last 13 years ) and this cast provides a reminder that the "untold story of the witches of Oz" is just as charming, fantastical and universally lovable as it was when Idina Menzel first sported the green body paint.

Alison Luff and Jenn Gambatese star as Elphaba and Galinda, better known as The Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch, in the story of how these seeming rivals were actually friends, and that everything you know from The Wizard of Oz isn't quite what it seems. If you've never seen Wicked, there's no reason to hold out any longer; it's in town through just before Christmas, and is a surer bet than most of the holiday shows it will compete with.

The astounding production value of Wicked hasn't changed in 10 years, naturally, nor has Schwartz's soaring, thematic score, so the spotlight shines brightest on new stars Luff and Gambatese—and what a pair they are.

Gambatese, whose Broadway credits include Jane in Tarzan and Natalie in All Shook Up, brings her own spunk and spirit to Glinda, adding substantial comic value to the already bubbly character. In terms of things in a musical that age well, humor isn't always one of them, yet Gambatese makes Glinda feel fresh, in a way that can only be described as channeling actress Kristen Wiig. Somehow she transforms the show's lightest number, "Popular," into a rousing anthem—and she delivers on the back end too, perfectly capturing Glinda's conflict of interest between rising fame in Oz and her relationship with "Elphie."

Luff makes it clear she's cut out for Elphaba the moment she opens her mouth for "The Wizard and I." She sings powerfully and with totally pristine sound throughout the show and does it with such apparent ease that when it comes time for her defining moment, the first-act climax "Defying Gravity," you're dying to know just what will happen when she lets it all loose. More impressively than all that, however, she puts as much passion into giving Elphaba a multidimensional personality and conveying the various emotions of her whirlwind transformation from quiet outcast to the defiant and determined Wicked Witch.

The supporting cast fills in nicely and the clever way Winnie Holtzman's book works in elements of The Wizard of Oz continues to add excitement to this show even on repeat viewings, but Luff and Gambatese are the reminder of why Wicked has become the international phenomenon it has. Glinda and Elphaba are powerful, complex and musically exhilarating roles for women, and they make the magic of Oz and Schwartz's music come alive.


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