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Wicked With all the aerial modes of transportation on display in Stephen Schwartz's (and book writer Winnie Holtzman's) megahit musical Wicked — winged monkeys, broomstick, tornado, fairground balloon and bubble — you'd think this theatrical juggernaut from 2003, the fourth incarnation to visit Houston via Gexa on Broadway, would have learned how to fly. But like an unwieldy zeppelin, the show lumbers along, dragged only intermittently into fresh air by the sorcery of Hayley Podschun as Glinda. Channeling the original necromancy of Kristin Chenoweth, Podschun adds her own brand of bubblelicious charm to Munchkinland's legally blond witch, which lifts this heavy, overproduced musical into the heavens. Whenever she's onstage, the musical floats high and light; when she's off stage, this gigantic, misguided dirigible collapses as if hit by lightning. Based very loosely upon Gregory Maguire's adult "prequel" to L. Frank Baum's classic series of children's books, this Broadway adaptation owes whatever magic it possesses to the long-ago wizards of MGM. Wicked's creators should be on their knees in thanks, because without the cinematic references to character, costume and set design, even dialogue, this show would be nowhere. The musical can't make up its mind what it wants to be. Themes plod in and out, while characters change motivation almost mid-scene. Is this a musical about the power of sisterhood? About being different? About being kind to animals? Or is it just the old Broadway plot of the odd girl finally etting the hunk? There's no cohesive message; it's about everything. The show drifts, using our memories of the movie to give it momentum and heft. And has there been a bigger, more successful musical in the last two decades with a score of less distinction? Schwartz (Pippin, Godspell, lyrics for Disney's Pocahontas and Dreamworks's Prince of Egypt) supplies enough anthems for an entire season of American Idol, but except for Glinda's comic "Popular" and a heartfelt duet for Glinda and Elphaba (Jennifer DiNoia), "For Good," the pop numbers come and go without touching us in the least. There's no charm in the music. Even Elphaba's power ballad "Defying Gravity," which ends the long first act with blasts of stratospheric singing and blinding light cues as Elphaba ascends on her broomstick to become the Wicked Witch of the West, is surprisingly forgettable. It's the slickness of the staging we remember at intermission. The production is rich and eye-popping, no question about it, with Eugene Lee's Tony-winning set designs and Susan Hilferty's award-winning costumes traveling well on the road. However, Wayne Cilento's stiff choreography doesn't travel at all. Has there ever been such a blockbuster with less exhilarating dancing? Or less fun? What a ponderous musical. Judy and her indelible friends on the yellow brick road cast a mighty spell. Looking over their shoulder, Wicked's writers attempt to bring the backstory to life, but trip over themselves and muddy up our nostalgia. They've created a monster, a huge cash cow, but one without much courage, heart or brains. Through August 11. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby, 800-982-2787. — DLG

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