‘Wicked’ at The Hippodrome at France-Merrick Performing Arts Center by Amanda Gunther

Citizens of Baltimore – Good news! The three-time Tony Award winning musical has landed at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre as Broadway Across America presents Wicked. With music and lyrics written by Academy Award winner Stephen Schwartz and book written by Drama Desk Award winner Winnie Holzman, this magical sensation sweeps into town for five weeks ready to enchant audiences of all ages. Based on the best-selling novel by Gregory Maguire, Wicked is the untold tale of The Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda and their lives in Oz before Dorothy dropped in. With spellbinding songs, a bewitching story of friendship, phenomenal costumes, incredible sets, and stunning performers, this cultural phenomenon will cast its magic and captivate all who come to see it.

The cast of ‘Wicked.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

Directed by two-time Tony Award winner Joe Mantello with Musical Staging by Tony Award winner Wayne Cilento, this production is the epitome of fantasy realized upon the stage. Mantello transports the cast to another world showing the audience a brand new side of Oz and all that surrounds it with a talented cast of over thirty astonishing performers who will sing and dance a place right into your heart before the evening has ended.

Three-time Tony Award winner Eugene Lee creates the wonderful world of Oz through his wildly imaginative scenic design. The massive clock dragon that looms out over the audience from atop the proscenium arch is enough to invite the audience to this whimsical world of fantasy. Lee crafts awe-inspiring scenes in this fictitious world, from the winding clock tower supports to Glinda’s magical bubble which actually flies, and the emerald city bridge in Oz; Lee animates the perfect backdrop for this odyssey allowing it to sail the waters of whimsy through every scene.

Completing the fantastical design aspects of this production is Tony Award winner Susan Hilferty whose mind provides the sheer brilliance behind the costumes of the show. Seeing the citizens of Oz decked out in their regal frippery is like stepping into an ethereal dream that’s been draped in no fewer than a dozen shades of green. These wildly vivid outfits are stunning; dresses and suits that flow with vibrant shades of lime and emerald, accentuated with ruffles and puffs and bubbles of sage, viridian, and chartreuse. They must be seen to be believed. Hilferty manages even more amazing work with the series of posh brightly colored dresses for the equally posh Glinda, and creates a breath-taking black ensemble for the enigmatic Elphaba.

The performance is supported by a sensational ensemble with powerful voices and motivated movements. Every dance number is performed to perfection and every emotional sentiment that drives each song is echoed energetically in their harmonious sounds. It is clear to see these actors are enjoying themselves, bringing a level of heightened excitement to the performance, enabling the audience to enjoy it all the more.

While story’s central focus is upon Elphaba and Glinda the show would not be complete without Elphaba’s sister, Nessarose (Catherine Charlebois). Making herself known in every scene Charlebois brings a bright sense of hope to the character, who is bound to a wheelchair. But don’t be fooled her sweet simplicity shreds at the seams in act II when Charlebois’s character is faced with a jaw-dropping dilemma. During the number “The Wicked Witch of the East” she shines with vocal eruptions of furious agony bordering on madness; a performance so shocking that you won’t believe your eyes.

The man behind it all— the spectacular sage, the magnificent mage— The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Paul Kreppel) lives up to his moniker with a polished pizzazz. Kreppel puts a jazzy twist on his title number, “Wonderful” hamming up his story and giving us true insight to his character’s motivations. His light-footed dance routine here with Elphaba is quirky and entertaining. His voice is soothing and catchy; delivering a truly great and powerful wizard from one ordinary man.

When the Winkie Prince Fiyero (Billy Harrigan Tighe) rolls into town you’re well aware of it. Tighe’s cool aloof personality will send thrills up your spine as he announces his presence as if he’s the greatest invention since the wizard himself. Charismatic, suave, and arrogant, Tighe meshes brilliantly with Glinda the moment he arrives on the stage. His voice is a glorious tenor that trembles with subtle emotion, gliding through “Dancing Through Life” with a graceful ease that melts your heart and is sweet perfection to hear. Tighe’s drastic character shift from the brainless narcissistic prince to the more humbled kind character is nothing short of stunning. And his duet with Elphaba in act II, “As Long As You’re Mine” culminates into one bewitching moment of impeccable harmony where love flows all around them. Tighe embodies the character with a passion and delivers a stellar performance.

The queen of popularity, Glinda (Jeanna De Waal) makes a spectacle of herself in every scene. De Waal plays the character up to a level of perky that can easily be considered spastic, shooting over the moon with her hair-tossing vapid sense of glorified self. Her bubbly goodness is contagious, bordering on infectious, and has the audience rolling with laughter every time she strikes a pose. De Waal’s effervescent rendition of “Popular” is a squeal. Her chipper personality softens into something more tame and manageable as Glinda grows and transforms into Glinda The Good.

The initial volatile relationship between De Waal and Elphaba (Christine Dwyer) is superb. From their first meeting the tensions roil between them and come to an explosive head in “What Is This Feeling?” The song becomes not only an expressive war between them but a vocal war as well, each winning out with perfect matching harmonies in the end. The staging for this number, as they sing pressed cheek to cheek, is nothing short of hilarious. As the dynamic of their relationship changes they grow from wretched rivals to the best of friends; the chemistry between them sparking fun and fantastic numbers like “One Short Day.” And their shining moment together comes late in act II when both characters have fully matured. Dwyer and De Waal create the most emotionally moving moment in the show with their heart-felt duet “For Good.” Together these witches cannot be stopped and no one will bring them down.

Singing as the sensational Elphaba, Christine Dwyer truly defies gravity in this role. Her voice is pure and powerful, brining a sharp sense of humanity to her number “The Wizard and I.” She is expressive and emotionally explosive, creating a dynamic wonder of a character. True moving sorrow slips from her lips in “I’m Not The Girl” as her haunting voice reminds us that love is for the beautiful. And her voice soars to the skies with passion and conviction as she breaks free in the act I finale, “Defying Gravity.” Dwyer’s raging emotions are brought to a cataclysmic explosion in “No Good Deed” where she belts her wickedness to the back of the house and sends chills up everyone’s spine. Dwyer is a phenomenal performer, giving this character everything in her arsenal, creating the perfect performance and leaving us believing in a truly good wicked woman.

Billy Tighe (Fiyero), sings with Elphaba (Christine Dwyer) in ‘Wicked.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

All you need is one short day and you too can be defying gravity with the two most sensational witches of Oz, but don’t wait too long or you’ll miss your chance to see this incredible production. You don’t want to miss out as it will change your life for good.

Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one-15 minute intermission

Wicked plays through November 4, 2012 at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center’s Hippodrome Theatre – 12 N. Eutaw Street in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call (410) 547-7328, or purchase them online.


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