Revisionist fairytales are all the rage. No longer are they Disney-esque — sweet and so, so pretty, sometimes packed with tuneful melodies. Instead they are more Burton-esque (as in Tim), and a little more “Wicked,”
“Wicked” has only been around for about 10 years, yet it appears to have spawned a whole raft of offshoots, including television’s “Once Upon a Time,” which is sporting its own Elphaba.
She rightfully belongs to “Wicked,” though. Her story in the Land of Oz, where it isn’t easy being green and where appearances of good and evil aren’t always what they seem, has gone through several of its own revisions. It began with Gregory Maguire’s book in 1995, the inspiration for the hit musical, which shaved off a few warts and all in order to appeal to family-friendly audiences.
And now “Wicked” has come back to Pittsburgh. It’s almost as if there has been another revision. This was the sleekest and, yes, loveliest of several versions I have seen. Even the Broadway production maintained an edgier look at the Emerald City.
Like many tours these days, “Wicked” returned with much of the award-winning scenery and sumptuous costumes intact, a visually glorious feast packed with the internal workings of a giant timepiece, a Time Dragon suspended above the Benedum Center proscenium and plenty of fog, sometimes too much, for the appropriate magical atmosphere.
Alison Luff’s Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, was more attractive than usual, without the unique beauty of, say, and Idina Menzel, who originated the role. But she took the audience on a journey, saving her best acting and singing for the second act. But her soaring performance of the show’s anthem, “Defying Gravity” still produced goosebumps.
That carried over into the rest of the cast. While Gina Beck’s Glinda was virtually note perfect, her transition into a leader and ultimately a steadfast good friend gave this Good Witch a worthy dimension.
Among the supporting cast, a petite Alison Fraser was more cute than, as her name suggests, Madame Morrible and John Davidson tapped echoes of Al Jolson in his traveling vaudevillian version of The Wizard. But Nick Adams was suitably handsome and engaging as Fiyero, while Tom Flynn was appropriately, yet humanely uppercrust as Dr. Dillamond.
The ensemble provided great vocal support in Stephen Schwartz’s by-now-familiar score, with dancers forgoing diversity, one of the overriding “Wicked” themes, in favor of an elegant technique (except for those fabulous winged monkeys).
This production gained power as it delved into a magical brew of good and evil, sprinkled with witty references to the 1939 movie, often at the oddest of moments. This “Wicked” is, in the end, worth your while, just to be transported to a world of magic and trickery, love and friendship, plus a clever twist on one of the world’s favorite fairytales.