Review: Wicked (Mirvish)

Wicked

Mirvish presents the return of the hit Broadway musical Wicked in Toronto through November 2, 2014

There’s no denying that Wicked is a phenomenon. In the ten years since the show opened on Broadway it has grossed $3.3 billion worldwide and has been seen by over 40 million people. The blockbuster Broadway musical has just flown back to Toronto’s Ed Mirvish theatre for a fourth engagement so if you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t seen it yet, now’s your chance.

There are many reasons why Wicked is so popular; first, there’s the clever story (based on the novel by Gregory Maguire) which riffs on and closely parallels the classic film The Wizard of Oz but turns it on its head: (spoiler) the so called “wicked witch” isn’t really wicked and everything you think you know about what happened in Oz is a lie perpetuated by those in power for their own nefarious purposes.

Then there’s the relationship between the two strong female leads: imagine if Glinda the Good and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, were roommates in college. Oh, what a fun premise!

Add Stephen Schwartz’ music; the act I finale number “Defying Gravity” has become a bonafide Broadway anthem, and the spectacular production design; costume designer Susan Hilferty’s whimsical spin on Edwardian-era fashions combine with scenic designer Eugene Lee’s vaguely steampunk sets to bring the magical world of Oz vividly to life on stage.

Most surprisingly, it’s also smart and intellectually engaging; when I first saw it I was particularly impressed by the clever way it weaved its political subtext; Wicked is a scathing indictment of the politics of George W. Bush’s America and the show critiques the propaganda used in Bush’s “War on Terror.”

All of these elements add up to make Wicked a show that’s worthy of its massive hype but ten years and four engagements in, is it still worth seeing this time around?

There are currently two productions of Wicked touring the continent and this is the first time the second national “Munchkinland” tour has been presented in Toronto.

Having seen Wicked before I noticed some of the corners cut for this version of the tour. The production looks and feels slightly smaller; there are no trap doors or mechanisms in the stage deck, the flying monkey doesn’t hang off a web rope during the overture, an overhead bridge that was a fully functional set piece in previous versions is now just a 2D cut-out and other set pieces like the beds in the witches’ dorm room or the benches used in the classroom scenes which were previously tracked on stage with automation are now manually pushed into place by performers.

While each of these concessions alone is minor, they accumulate to diminish the overall sleekness of the show and for a big-budget Broadway show whose appeal relies, at least in part, on the wow-factor of its production, it’s inadvisable to skimp on the details.

Those gripes aside, the show itself is as satisfying as ever. The leads this time around are phenomenal. Laurel Harris gives a powerhouse performance as Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. She can belt the roof off the theatre but is also able to effectively deliver the more intimate moments with a nuance that really makes us fall in love with her character.

I felt Kara Lindsay’s Glinda was a little too over-the-top and campy; she overplayed the character’s ditziness in the first act to the point where her transition to a deeper, more fully-rounded character in the second act wasn’t as credible. However, the two leads have an amazing rapport and play off each other beautifully.

Even after ten years Wicked still has the power to cast its spell, the three previous Toronto engagements broke box office records and with the name recognition to attract new fans and the re-watchability factor bringing existing fans back again and again (myself included), there’s no reason to doubt that it’ll still be a hot ticket this time around.

Details:

  • Wicked is playing at the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria Street) through November 2, 2014
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Wednesday and Saturday at 1:30 p.m., and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
  • Tickets $36.00 to $139.00
  • Tickets are available by phone at 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333, in-person at the Ed Mirvish Theatre box office or online at Mirvish.com
  • A day-of-performance lottery for a limited number of orchestra seats for $25 each, cash only, will be held two and a half hours prior to each performance. See the website for more details.

Photo of Kara Lindsay and Laurel Harris by Joan Marcus

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