Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 17, 2007


The Bushnell, Hartford
Running through December 9
By Bob & Sharon Smith

You can tell that the musical WICKED strikes a cord with the audience just based on the excited energy buzzing through the capacity crowd at the Bushnell. The audience responds to this tale of “what happened before Dorothy dropped in” to Oz, partly because it is a stirring production and partly because of the dual personalities of Elphaba and Glinda, the Witches Wicked and Good. Who, at one time or another, has not felt like an outcast or yearned to be popular, as are these two very different schoolmates? The last notes of the final number had not even been sung and the audience was on their feet.

Like the Harry Potter books, WICKED uses a fantasy setting to explore modern themes. “Where I come from,” the Wizard explains, “the best way to unite the people is to give them a common enemy.” When Elphaba discovers that some of the very issues she was hoping “the Wizard” would fix are of his own creation, she vows to use her
powers to set things right. Using misinformation and spin control, she is soon branded a ‘wicked” witch and declared a pubic enemy.

Unlike another fantasy franchise where the “backstory” of the villain is revealed, ("Star Wars" Episodes 1-3) the audience can readily accept and believe this origin story because it is presented with far more emotional and personal investment than that of Darth Vader. All of the characters grow and develop in WICKED and it is
often as much the story of Glinda as it is of Elphaba.

The leads certainly rise to the challenge; Carmen Cusak (Elphaba) and Katie Rose Clark (Glinda) were well matched as friends and foils. The music and lyrics by Steven Schwartz are evocative and stirring, giving Cusak a number of show stopping, emotion-packed numbers. “I’m Not That Girl,” “Defying Gravity,” and “No Good
Deed” brilliantly reinforce Elphaba’s inner life. “Popular” is Clark’s showcase and never has an ode to shallowness been crafted with such heartfelt conviction. In the end, when the two join together in “For Good,” the audience truly believes in the depth of their mismatched friendship.

The costumes of the inhabitants of Oz, despite their bright colors, are a bit grotesque and when they all donned round green glasses it looked like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” not Oz. But this is just a minor point in a brilliant production, which is getting its second run through Hartford in recent years.

One technical note: there was a crew member located in the light rigs that had the loudest headset voice ever heard in a professional setting. His voice rang out clearly during two very poignant musical numbers.