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Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ ‘Wicked’ Is A Wondrous and Altogether Worth-While Musical Theater Experience

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Now the fifth longest-running show in Broadway history with its 18-year run, “Wicked” began its limited North American residency at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts from Feb. 9 to March 6, granting a whole new set of viewers a glimpse into the coruscating world of Oz. 

Filled with stunning technicolor, deeply sentimental themes of friendship, “otherness,” resilience and jazzified musical excellence, “Wicked” has infiltrated the hearts of Broadway lovers around the world since its 2003 debut. Ranked among the Broadway Musical elite, the original “Wicked” cast included Broadway royalty Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, music and lyrics by multiple award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz and playwright by Drama Desk Award winner Winnie Holzman. 

The North American tour of “Wicked” follows the loathing-turned-loving friendship between college-aged Glinda the Good (Allison Bailey) and Elphaba (Talia Suskauer), otherwise known as the Wicked Witch of the West. Glinda — the human embodiment of a polished diamond, busting with perfectly curled hair and popularity — unlikely befriends the emerald-green skinned Elphaba. Passionate and deeply misunderstood, Elphaba yearns to meet the Wizard of Oz and transform herself from a public outcast to someone extraordinarily accepted. 

As the lights inside the Segerstrom Center for the Arts dimmed with an air of anticipatory excitement, the theater was filled to the brim with eager fan hushings as the twinkling Emerald City map rose with the curtain. This acted as a preface to the visual excellence soon to be experienced as theatre-goers embarked toward the Land of Oz.

Suddenly, the opening cords of “No One Mourns the Wicked” cascaded across the stage and into the ears of awaiting watchers. The Oz-ified ensemble rushed the floor in elaborate green-toned costumes, calling out reasons the wicked of life ought to remain unmourned in death. In the background, the once-still silver mechanical dragon resting at the mantle of the stage roared and flapped its demanding wings in pattern with the beat. 

As its red eyes glared toward the crowd, a voice called “Look! It’s Glinda!” and from the top of stage right ethereally floated the glowing Glinda in her giant magic bubble.

With a voice as soft as silk and light as the air, she proclaimed to the Ozians and audience below: “It’s good to see me isn’t it?” 

And good it was. 

Even in the wonderful Land of Oz, discrimination, corruptness and purposefully persuasive rhetoric are present. When Elphaba and Glinda discover the caring, father-like Wizard (Cleavant Derricks) is a fraud, those with Ozian power divert the scandal by painting Glinda as a dedicated, “goodly” servant to the citizens of Oz. In contrast, Elphaba is cast off in the public eye as an enemy to all, deeming her “wicked.” 

What makes the North American tour so note-worthy, besides the renowned quality of “Wicked” in itself, is the cast’s strong performance. With Bailey and Suskauer anchoring the show as Glinda and Elphaba, along with talented performances from castmates Amanda Fallon Smith (Nessarose), DJ Plunkett (Boq) and Lisa Howard (Madame Morrible), audiences are graced with charming vocality and exquisite acting choices from beginning to end. 

Photo provided by scfta.org

Bailey, who previously understudied the role of Glinda on the National tour, portrayed Glinda with head-to-toe calculation. Every movement oozed Glinda’s glitter and glitz, especially her brilliant comedic timing, model delivery and hilariously fairy-like toe taps, and articulated Glinda’s character as clearly as the script’s lines. This made Bailey’s rendition both unique and memorable. 

In beloved songs like “Popular,” “Thank Goodness” and the show’s opening number “No One Mourns the Wicked,” Bailey’s angelic soprano vocal range and gorgeously quick vibrato were as heavenly as the very bubble Glinda traveled throughout Oz. Combine that with her surprisingly potent voice, beautiful placement when belting and overall emotional earnestness, it became clear throughout the musical’s two acts why there’s no one “quite as popular” as Glinda. 

In line with Bailey’s wonderful performance, Suskauer’s portrayal of the courageous, powerful and misconceived Elphaba was completely thrilling. Suskauer, who appeared in both the on and off-Broadway productions of “Be More Chill,”  brought a surprising awkwardness and intense sincerity to Elphaba. Suskauer’s intentionality of her motions, as Elphaba transformed from being outcasted and ashamed to commanding and magically inclined, was pleasantly engulfing.  Through her emotions, movements and captivating voice, she demonstrated her character’s multifaceted nature with a heartfelt genuineness and a commitment to Elphaba’s essence.

Photo provided by scfta.org

Suskauer’s control and tone of her vocals were truly exquisite. Within the song “The Wizard And I,” her slightly twangy vocality on the phrase “de-green-ify you” was lovely. Singing in an octave higher than originally written, the flawless execution of the heart-wrenchingly hopeful song’s end was a testament to Suskauer’s unlimited vocal capabilities, which was again confirmed in Act One’s rousing final number, “Defying Gravity.” 

When Bailey’s and Suskauer’s musical talent are combined — as seen in the songs “What Is This Feeling” and the sentimental “For Good” — the results were magic and led to a satisfying juxtaposition. The comparison between Glinda’s polished sovereignty and bouncy delivery versus Elphaba’s quirky and formidable nature was visually and emotionally pleasing. Alternatively, when their voices combined, their contrast harmonized in the most euphonious way. 

Other noteworthy performances included Fiyero (Jordan Litz) whose vocals were as smooth as his heart-throb charm and Derricks’ charisma and personability as the Wizard. 

As notable as its performances, the musical’s setting, costuming, choreography and lighting melted to create and immerse audiences within the magical Land of Oz. Specifically, the sets were dynamic and contained both unrefined and industrial influence, as well as the sparkingly and polished Emerald city flare. Especially cool were the projections of Elphaba’s silhouette during the opening number and the inclusion of animatronic elements, like the dragon resting at the stage’s mantle and the wizard’s mechanical disguise,  both magnified with purposeful lighting. 

Photo provided by scfta.org

Thanks to the extensive talent of the “Wicked” cast, crew and director Joe Mantello, the production is a thoroughly delightful experience for audience members. Every aspect of the musical exudes tantalizing wonder, including its awe-inspiring cast performances, setting and music. 

The National tour of “Wicked” is a must-see. Its stay at Segerstrom Center for the Arts comes at a perfect time before the musical hits theaters in a film version directed by Jon M. Chu and stars Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo as Glinda and Elphaba, respectively. Even with so much grandeur, “Wicked” appeals to universally experienced themes and contemplates significant aspects of society, like control, discrimination and public persuasion. Combine the tour’s overall excellence with the anticipation of a “Wicked” movie, it’s no wonder tickets for the show have been selling quickly. 

Join the “11 million theatergoers” who have experienced the splendor of “Wicked” by heading to Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts, and see for yourself what makes this marvelously complex and exciting musical so “good.” 

Clairesse Schweig is an Entertainment Intern for the winter 2022 quarter. They can be reached at cschweig@uci.edu