This may be the season when everyone is trying to get on Santa’s good list, but take time off of your daily good deeds for a bit of “Wicked” fun at the Pantages. “Wicked” has blown into Los Angeles, opening on 11 December 2014 and staying until 15 March 2015. That’s right! This popular show is just in time for a holiday indulgence, holiday gift giving and potential Valentine’s Day gifting.
As with all Pantages productions, the production values are high (love the dragon that watchers over the action) and Emmy Raver-Lampman as Elphaba (aka the Wicked Witch of the West) and Chandra Lee Schwartz as Glinda are girls on the go with glorious voices.
“Wicked” was in Los Angeles in 2005 and then came back in 2007 for an engagement that ran for two years–one of the longest-running Broadway musicals in Los Angeles history. The musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman is based on Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.” Making its Broadway debut in 2003, the original show starred Idina Menzel as Elphaba and Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda (with Joel Grey as the Wizard) and won a Tony for Menzel.
Menzel and Chenoweth have both become more famous to the general public via the TV series “Glee,” so Glee fans might wonder what their interpretations might have looked like, especially with Chenoweth being so petite. We already know the twosome were nixed as being too old for the movie that has been in development hell since 2003, but is likely to open in 2016.
Schwartz is as tall as Raver-Lampman and Raver-Lampman is a sturdy looking woman–not lean and hungry as Menzel seems in person. Yet these actresses are also triple threats. They can act, dance and sing.
Schwartz played Glinda on the first national tour (August 2009 through April 2011). She’s a local girl, from San Diego, CA and moved to New York City at 19 and appeared in her first Broadway show at 21. Raver-Lampman was the Elphaba standby on the 2005 National Tour and also the replacement. She is not the first black woman to show that it’s hard being green. That honor goes to Saycon Sengbloh, but Raver-Lampman is one of six who have taken on the role.
Nick Adams makes a swoon-worthy Fiyero, the love interest of both Glinda and Elphaba.
“Wicked” begins with the famous death by water of the Wicked Witch of the West by Dorothy. We never really see Dorothy or Toto. Instead, we flashback to the real story of the Wicked Witch before she was dubbed Wicked. As the citizens of Oz rejoice at her death, Glinda takes us back to the past when the Munchkin governor’s wife has an affair with a stranger selling a green potion. The affair results in a green-skinned girl (a lesson in don’t drink strange stuff when you’re pregnant) who is unloved by a guilty mother and a suspicious father (Okay, the musical doesn’t make him suspicious of being a cuckold, but wouldn’t you be?). The mother dies after giving birth to the lovely but physically handicapped Nessarose. Nessarose is spoiled by her father and Elphaba plays nursemaid, pushing around her sister’s wheelchair until they enter Shiz University where the headmistress Madame Morrible (Kim Zimmer)vtakes over the care of Nessarose and a misunderstanding leads the vain and vacuous Galinda to becoming roommates with Elphaba.
Glinda is blond, giggly and popular. Elphaba wears unflattering dark clothes and her hair severely pulled back in a light braid. She doesn’t fit in, but she finds friendship with another misfit. At Old Shiz, there is one professor, Doctor Dillamond, who is literally an animal, an old goat. The animals in Oz once all talked, but some mysterious illness is causing them to lose their power of speech. Despite having the power to speak English, the good goat doctor can’t pronounce Galinda, and Galinda decides to change her name to honor him.
At first, Galinda is the popular mean girl, but she soon decides to be friends with Elphaba. The friendship is complicated when a bad boy, often expelled Fiyero hits the scene. And Elphaba and the re-named Glinda also compete for the approval of the great Wizard. Yet they also learn that the Wizard is behind the prejudice against the animals of Oz.
This is a fun show with catchy tunes that, not unlike “Peter Pan,” will make you want to defy gravity, but you’ll have to choose between a broom and a bubble.
Somehow, this show really belongs in the ornate Pantages that makes it almost seem as if we are in some far off, magical land like Emerald City. This is a case where the venue really makes the experience better (as compared to the more modern and less fussy Ahmanson). Raver-Lampman is a credible as a girl who matures into a strong-willed independent women and local girl Schwartz convincingly transforms from the silly social butterfly to a responsible woman. Schwartz’s physicality in her role gets a lot of the laughs.
Two-time Tony Award-winning director Joe Mantello (“Take Me Out” in 2003 and “Assassins” in 2004), and Musical staging Tony Award winner Wayne Cilento (for “The Who’s Tommy” in 1993) give us a good balance between sentiment and pathos, comedy and a lightly dealt message about social awareness and women being the sources of leadership.
This is a family musical with a lesson for those over the age of 8. No one under 5 will be admitted into the theater although I’m unclear on how they will make that determination. While in the first act we learn that “No One Mourns the Wicked” and one should be “Dancing through Life” and being “Popular” has its perks, by the second act we learn that besides “Defying Gravity” sometimes one should defy authority “For Good” and to help others. Both Elphaba and Glinda grow wiser, but only one of them gets the guy.
So cast off your daily cares, and start “Dancing through Life” because there’s “No Good Deed” better than taking time for your family and friends so spend money “For Good” times at the Pantages. Even Santa knows that being a bit “Wicked” can still be nice.
“Wicked” continues at the Pantages until Sunday, 15 March 2015. Day-of-performance lottery for a limited number of $25 orchestra seats is held for each performance. Entries are accepted at the box office two and a half hours to each performance for up to two tickets. Names are drawn at random; cash only. Winners must be present at the time of the drawing and must show valid ID for purchase. One entry per person and two tickets per winner. Tickets are subject to availability.
The regular schedule is Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. For the week of 22-28 December: Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday, at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. For 29 December to 4 January, the schedule is Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Ticket prices begin at $25. For tickets and more information, visit the Hollywood Pantages Theatre website at www.HollywoodPantages.com.