There really is no debate when it comes to the popularity of Wicked, or The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz. The show is now firmly established as one of the most popular musicals of all time. It’s about to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its debut on Broadway, where it still runs to this day, closing in on 4,000 total performances.
The idea behind the show is wickedly simple: Instead of approaching the story of Oz through the eyes of Dorothy, it tells the background of Glinda the Good Witch (Jenn Gambatese) and Elphaba, a.k.a. the Wicked Witch of the West (Dee Roscioli). If that tactic seems familiar, that’s because Oz the Great and Powerful delivered its own version of Oz history in theaters earlier this year.
One of the biggest pleasures of watching Wicked is how it refers to The Wizard of Oz without outright ripping it off.
But the two projects are unrelated; Wicked, created by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman, is based on the 1995 Gregory Maguire novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Both the book and musical tell the story of the unlikely friendship Glinda and Elphaba strike up while attending Shiz University in Oz.
Glinda is an unstoppable social climber, always looking to stay one step ahead of those she deems beneath her stature. Elphaba, meanwhile, is a social outcast, thanks to her bright green skin and usually surly demeanor. When the two are forced together as roommates, their opinions on each other start to change.
Just as in the recent Oz movie, one of the biggest pleasures of watching the musical is how it refers to The Wizard of Oz without outright ripping it off. Among other things, we witness the origins of the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow, all of whom arrive in unexpected ways. Multiple clever lines bring up memories of the original film, keeping audience members on their toes.
A great idea like this wouldn’t work without standout songs, which Wicked has in spades. The two most notable ones are “Popular,” which details Glinda’s plan to make Elphaba more appealing to their fellow classmates, and “Defying Gravity,” a show-stopper that ends the first act, in which Elphaba displays a confidence and rage that previously had been missing from her personality.
It’s in that song that you truly realize the flexibility and ingeniousness of the set. Elphaba takes to the sky in such a manner that it’s nearly impossible to tell how they accomplished the task. Designer Eugene Lee’s set has not changed since the musical premiered, and the level of detail he put into it endures to this day.
The show is alternately humorous and dramatic, embodied by the opposing personalities of Glinda and Elphaba. Glinda gets many of the funny lines, and Gambatese does a wonderful job showing off Glinda’s cluelessness and bubbliness. Roscioli is heartbreaking as the eternally put-upon Elphaba, as well she should be, because she’s played the role more times than anyone else.
That said, although both possess fantastic voices, something was missing from their performances. For some reason, Gambatese and Roscioli are unable to achieve the full emotional connection that Donna Vivino and Chandra Lee Schwartz established when the national tour came to Dallas three years ago.
This could be because Gambatese just joined the tour in late February or because Roscioli doesn’t quite measure up to the powerhouse voice of Vivino. Whatever it was, the production fell just short of its potential this time around.
However, even a slightly subpar Wicked is still better than almost any other musical that Dallas Summer Musicals will present. And who knows? By the time the production leaves town, it may have found its groove and fully lived up to the reputation the musical has earned over the past decade.