I think I may be the last person in the world to not see "Wicked." The show has reaped billions of dollars all over the world, won Grammy and Tony awards, and in my high school it seemed like every single girl – even the popular ones – were wearing "Defy Gravity" t-shirts.
And honestly, I thought the whole thing was kind of annoying. I couldn’t escape "Wicked." I’ve never been a fan of the "Wizard of Oz" (tell me I’m not the only one who thought that movie was seriously creepy), so I didn't get what all the hype was about.
I saw "Wicked" last night at the Marcus Center. And now? I totally get it.
(Even if I still think "The Wizard of Oz" is creepy).
Every aspect of the performance is what you would expect from a professional touring company. The lighting is amazing, the voices are pure and on-key, the costumes are gorgeous, the dancing is flawless, the casting is perfect. But that’s not too surprising for any show that has this kind of money invested in it and this kind of fan base and pedigree. In fact, it’s kind of a given.
But what’s not a given – and what all the investment dollars in the world cannot buy – is raw, in-your-face, blow-your-hair-back talent.
And even when you have talent, chemistry is even harder to pin down. This musical has both.
The leading ladies Jennifer DiNoia and Hayley Podschun are beautiful and have angelic voices. You won’t remember that as much. What you’ll remember from their performances are their faces – the power in their emotions, whether Podschun is nailing the punchline of a joke or DiNoia is passionately defending Elphaba’s right to be her own green-skinned self. You’ll remember the wild, despairing look DiNoia’s eyes as she sings "No Good Deed" and the irrepressible and infectious charisma of Podschun as she explains how essential it is to be loved in the performance of "Popular."
DiNoia is on her fifth company of "Wicked," and her mastery of her character is truly something to see. She conveys Elphaba’s caustic defensiveness in a way that makes the character’s passionate activism neither irritating nor admirable. It is simply decent – and that’s what this story is about. Being decent, being the best and most honest version of yourself that there is. Elphaba, with her black costumes, rolling eyes and constant one-liners, runs the risk of being the annoying goth kid; in DiNoia’s capable hands, she is simply a flawed, beautiful character who is marvelously, impeccably acted.
Podschun similarly sidesteps landmines with her character, Glinda; bubbly, gleeful and popular, the audience could so easily loathe the Good Witch. Instead, we just think she’s funny and real. Podschun beautifully shows the chinks in Glinda’s sparkly armor in her emotional reprise of "I’m Not That Girl." She entertains us with Glinda’s prancing, hair-tossing, shrieking, fluttering and giggling – but she also shows us (particularly in the second act, and particularly during the performance of "Thank Goodness") how vulnerable and needy Glinda actually is. It's a really moving thing to see.
Both actresses were able to harness the emotions and sympathies of the audience and hold it in their hands for two and a half hours. The cast was nicely rounded out by Walker Jones as the Wizard and David Nathan Perlow as Fiyero.
Like I said, I have never seen another production of this musical before, so I can’t report on how it compares to previous interpretations. But I do know that this is the most dynamic musical and theatrical production I have seen this year –and maybe last year too. Maybe ever.
Whether you’re one of those annoying girls from my high school or just a true lover of the music, pull out that "Defy Gravity" t-shirt and get yourself to the Marcus Center before this show closes July 7. You will not regret it.
Colleen Jurkiewicz is a Milwaukee native with a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she loves having a job where she learns something new about the Cream City every day. Her previous incarnations have included stints as a waitress, a barista, a writing tutor, a medical transcriptionist, a freelance journalist, and now this lovely gig at the best online magazine in Milwaukee.