Whether it’s your first time in Oz or you’ve seen Glinda, Elphaba and company so many times you’re racking up frequent bubble miles, Wicked continues to cast its spell national tour after national tour, night after night in city after city. The current month-long stop in Nashville at TPAC’s Jackson Hall through Sunday, April 22, is proving no exception.
When approached about reviewing the show, I almost opted to sit this one out, fondly remembering my Wicked history, having first seen it on Broadway with the original star-studded cast featuring Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth and Joel Grey. I was also lucky enough to see TV legend Rue McClanahan as Madame Morrible and Megan Hilty on Broadway in 2003, as well as more than a couple of the national touring companies. Thankfully I got my wits about me and said yes to another visit to Oz during opening week in Nashville.
Upon arrival at TPAC, I was immediately struck by the buzz of activity. Attending shows there frequently, there was just something differently, something truly magical, if you will, about the excitement in the air as devotees and newbies alike prepared to put the realities of life on hold for a few hours as they joined Glinda et al on a journey not just beyond, but before Dorothy’s rainbow.
Part of the aforementioned buzz just might be attributed to fact that one of Tennessee’s own, Ginna Claire Mason is cast as Galinda (it’s pronounced “gah-linda”, by the way…until she decides to honor a former professor by changing it to the more common pronunciation of Glinda). There’s nothing like a hometown girl to get the locals excited. Hometown ties aside, within seconds of the show’s open, No One Mourns the Wicked, Mason proves why she went from Broadway standby to starring as Galinda in the current tour. Yes, she’s channeling Chenoweth’s undeniable perkiness, but she’s making the role her own with a youth and sweetness often passed over in favor of barely disguised snark. Mason’s Galinda could make even one as jaded as myself believe in the good in everyone.
Perhaps because I’m convinced there’s a permanent little black rain-cloud that follows me ‘round, one of my absolute favorite moments occurs at the top of the show. As the ensemble somberly performed No One Mourns The Wicked, I got chills and quickly remembered just how much I do indeed love this show.
I’m not quite sure when Wicked achieved cult status, but the fact that it has was evident the night I attended. Not only was the audience a sea of green (with the occasional splash of Galinda’s passion for pastels), but as each time a major character made their premiere entrance, cheers (and occasional, but story-appropriate boos and hisses) could be heard from the audience. Enter Mary Kate Morrissey as Elphaba, the aforementioned Wicked one herself (ok, so that determination is indeed debatable in the contest of the story). Alright, full confession time…at the risk of having water thrown on me, or even perhaps being frozen, I’m just not the biggest fan of Idina Menzel’s Elphaba. I know, I know. That said, I love the way Mary Kate Morrissey plays Elphaba. From her first entrance as a young student at Shiz University in Galinda’s show-encompassing ‘flashback’ of how she knew Elphaba, Morrissey defies more than gravity by making Elphaba her own. From her physicality—when she walks, there’s a awkward tomboyish lumbering about her movement, to her singing—she actually hits her notes rather than screaming them—Morrissey is a emerald-colored jewel on stage.
For those familiar, of course the show is filled with now-beloved musical moment including Popular, and For Good, to name a couple, and the current touring company beautifully, faithfully delivers them all.
Then there’s the literal show-stopping Defying Gravity, which majestically closes Act 1. As visually stunning each time I see it, it proves once and for all why this show must now and forever been seen in a venue large enough, and by a company strong enough, to do it justice.
That said, this time, I was also struck by just how perfect the entire Wicked songbook by Stephen Schwartz is. My ‘new’ favorites include Madame Morrible (Jody Gelb) and Morrissey’s Elphaba duetting on The Wizard and I. The song speaks of such admiration and devotion, it’s hard not to love it. There there’s the optimistic Dancing Through Life featuring Jon Robert Hall’s Fiyero, Catherine Charlebois’ Nessarose, Cole Doman’s Boq, Morrissey, Mason and the ensemble. Why have I never paid more attention to this number? It’s kinda fantastic!
I’m Not that Girl and it’s Act 2 reprise provide two sides to the same coin and both Morrissey, in Act 1’s original and Mason, in Act 2’s reprise, perform it with such emotion, if you can’t relate to it the first time, the second time will definitely get you.
As mentioned previously, having seen Wicked a time or two…ok, this tour marks my sixth time, I do believe, I found myself discovering things I had either forgotten, or simply had never noticed in previous viewings. Yes, there’s the obvious nods to L. Frank Baum’s original children’s book and the iconic 1939 film adaptation, including the revelations that we get a peek at The Lion, The Scarecrow and The TinMan before Dorothy ever hops the balloon from Kansas, but there’s so many hidden Oz nods that even during my sixth time, I’m sure I’m still missing a few.
From musical winks like the familiar opening notes of Somewhere Over the Rainbow hidden within The Wizard and I when Elphaba sings, “Unlimited, my future…”, to nods to Wizard of Oz characters and now-famous lines. A fun example: Madame Morrible, notorious for mispronouncing words, at one point tells Elphaba, there’s been “a slight gulch”, a reference to Miss Gulch, Dorothy’s bicycle-riding teacher who, in The Wizard of Oz, transforms into The Wicked Witch. There’s visual homages, including the green scene of “One Short Day”, featuring some very Wizard-ish green costumes. Of course this could also be seen as a wink to the popular 70s retelling, The Wiz and the “you’ve got to be seen green” scene from that Ozian interpretation. Other more obvious Oz references come within simple dialogue. At various times, Wicked cast members can be heard saying, “there’s no place like home”, “and your little dog, too”. Heck, even Boq says, “lemons and melons and pears, oh, my”, recalling The TinMan’s warning to Dorothy that they might encounter lions and tigers and bears, oh, my on their journey down the yellow brick road.
The Oz references keep on coming. First there’s an early mention of the silver slippers (their original color in Baum’s books…they didn’t turn ruby until the technicolor of MGM’s film decided red would film better). NessaRose’s black and white striped socks are also fun clue to her eventual demise. Shoot, during Act 2, when Glinda sees Fiyero rushing off, she calls after him, “Tick-tock”, to warn him to hurry back…true Oz fans might pick up that reference, as Tik-Tok is a character first introduced in Baum’s third Oz novel, Ozma of Oz. One final Oz nod and I’ll close. Even Elphaba is an homage to the great and powerful L. Frank Baum….L.F.B….sound out each letter of his initials and you’ll morph your way to Elphaba…spellbinding, huh?
The current national tour of Wicked continues at TPAC through Sunday, 22. Tuesday-Thursday performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday evening performances are at 8 p.m. Saturday matinees are at 2 p.m. Sunday performances are 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tickets range in price from $31.50 to $156, but if you’re feeling especially Wicked, you might want to try your hand at the TPAC Ticket Lottery! Just show up at the TPAC box office (505 Deadrick Street, Nashville, TN 37219) two-and-a-half hours before curtain for your chance to purchase $25 tickets! Now, that’s an offer you can’t shake a fire-blazing broom at. CLICK HERE for tickets or more information. Not in Nashville? No worries…check out Wicked on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see where they’re playing next.
Following Wicked, TPAC continues the current season with Waitress June 5-10, then wraps their Broadway season with Love Never Dies: The Phantom Returns June 19-24. Click Here for tickets or more information. You can also follow TPAC on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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