I couldn’t tell you what gifts I received for most of my childhood birthdays, but my thirteenth birthday gift is forever burned into my memory. That’s because I received tickets to see Wicked when it first ran on Broadway in Chicago. I’d listened to the cast album on CD countless times and seeing it on stage for the first time was the closest thing I’d ever experienced to magic.
Sixteen years later, Wicked is back in Chicago. The theatre has a new name, I listen to the soundtrack on Spotify instead of CD, and I have a husband to drive me to the theatre instead of my aunt, but the staying power of this musical is undeniable. Perhaps it’s the story’s connection to The Wizard of Oz, a story that itself is woven tightly into the fabric of American culture. Perhaps it’s the timeless themes of power, freedom, love, and friendship that drive the story. Perhaps it’s the lighthearted humor or the vivid characters or the breathtaking feats of technical theatre used to create the magical world of the show. Whatever it is, here is a musical that’s worth seeing more than once.
For those unfamiliar, the story follows Elphaba, the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, through her childhood and descent into wickedness. Along the way, she befriends Galinda, later Glinda the Good, and falls in love with Winkie prince Fiyero. A moving mechanical dragon, gorgeous lighting, impressive makeup, glittering costumes, and countless other pieces of top-notch design bring the land of Oz to life with an expertise that looks to an outsider like ease.
Of course, it also takes a cast to bring a show to life, and there is no shortage of talent in this production. Lissa deGuzman is a fantastic Elphaba, bringing both the character’s fiery stubbornness and her deep compassion to the forefront of her acting choices. She also has an impressive set of pipes, and her renditions of such famous tunes as “The Wizard and I” and “Defying Gravity” made even a seasoned fan like me feel like she was hearing the songs anew. Something similar can be said about Jennafer Newberry’s Glinda; she brings an energy and freshness to the character that prevents her from feeling stale even if you’ve heard “Popular” belted by a thousand aspiring amateurs like I have. The two have great chemistry together, and the scenes between the two of them are without a doubt the most compelling in the show.
The men in the cast are a bit less exciting than the women. Jordan Litz fell short of my expectations for Fiyero’s charisma, and John Bolton is an unremarkable Wizard. Still, neither of them is so weak as to drag down the quality of the show; after all, Elphaba and Glinda are its core, and deGuzman and Newberry more than make up for the slight shortcomings of their castmates.
This was my fourth time seeing Wicked, and I’ll be seeing it again next month. I have no doubt, having seen this specific production once, that I’ll have a great time at my fifth viewing. If you’ve seen Wicked before, come enjoy it again, and if you’ve missed it until now, remedy that as soon as possible. This show rocks.
Dates: September 29-December 4, 2022
Location: James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W Randolph St.
Tickets: $59-$194. Visit the Broadway in Chicago website for details.
All photos by Joan Marcus