Pantages Theatre, Los Angeles
The new Los Angeles production of "Wicked," the award-winning, high-grossing musical about the wacked-out witches from Wizdom, runs an epic 2 1/2 hours, scores on virtually all entertainment levels and is everything you would expect it to be. It's no wonder its run at the Pantages is open-ended.
It also is no wonder that "Wicked" is a megahit: The twisted story line is aimed as much at adults as at their kids, the superclever book has lots of goofy wordplay plus lines from and references to "The Wizard of Oz," and the stunning production values include a riot of dazzling costumes and an audiophile-quality sound that captures every nuance and dimension of the fabulous singing.
It's true that the tunes are no more than moderately memorable, but the writing for the two diva witches (Eden Espinosa as Elphaba and Megan Hilty as Glinda) provides a breathtaking display of the glories of the female voice. Just when the choreography seems to run out of steam at the doors of the neonified Emerald City, the hedonistic spirit of Busby Berkeley injects additional glitz and glamour. The story of how true love and morality triumph over self-interest is even tinged with overtones of forbidden love ("Kiss her, you fool!" this critic occasionally thought, each time Elphaba and Glinda looked deep into each other's eyes).
Best of all, every one of the main roles is a tour de force, and each is performed with mostly unforgettable charisma, charm and virtuosity, and lit into with unbridled glee.
Hilty's Glinda steals the show, if only by one wave of her training wand. She is dizzy, adorable, imperious, goofy, vulnerable and much more, all in constant alternation, and the audience sighs and laughs with and at her until it seems they can sigh and laugh no more.
Outdone by just a whisker, Espinosa's Elphaba wields her magic powers and garish green body makeup with consummate skill, transforming into a romantic prize whose love affair with magnificent prince Fiyero (an outstanding job by Kristoffer Cusick) is heart-throbbingly compelling. Her voice soars as much as her character does, and her physical chemistry with Hilty (and Cusick) is so tangible you can reach out and feel the energy.
Carol Kane is hysterical as Madame Morrible, and if at times she veers close to becoming a Hermione Gingold clone, that's probably an occupational hazard of playing eccentric spinster witches.
Meanwhile, John Rubinstein as the Great Oz edges ever closer to a world in which Artur is known primarily for being father to the son. At times he seems too un-Ozobnoxious on a stage populated entirely with more outlandish types, but he brings to the proceedings a welcome human touch.
Most of those outlandish types, whether Timothy Britten Parker as lovable Dr. Dillamond or Adam Wylie as steadfast Boq, are superb.
The show wasn't perfect. The writers have to scurry around to tie up the loose ends related to "Wizard" before the curtain falls. And all you get to see of the Cowardly Lion is his tail. Otherwise, however, welcome to Los Angeles.
Presented by Marc Platt, Universal Pictures, the Araca Group, Jon B. Platt and David Stone
Music-lyrics: Stephen Schwartz
Book: Winnie Holzman
Based on the novel by: Gregory Maguire
Director: Joe Mantello
Musical staging: Wayne Cilento
Set designer: Eugene Lee
Costume designer: Susan Hilferty
Lighting designer: Kenneth Posner
Sound designer: Tony Meola
Musical director: Dominick Amendum
Dance arrangements: James Lynn Abbott
Casting: Telsey + Co. USA
Executive producers: Marcia Goldberg, Nina Essman
Elphaba: Eden Espinosa
Glinda: Megan Hilty
Madame Morrible: Carol Kane
Oz: John Rubinstein
Fiyero: Kristoffer Cusick
Boq: Adam Wylie
Dr. Dillamond: Timothy Britten Parker
Nessarose: Jenna Leigh Green