Something flamboyant this way comes.
Fans of musical theater just wanna have fun, a reliable trait that rescued Wicked from mixed reviews after its Broadway opening three years ago. Enthusiastic word-of-mouth shouted down the critics, the box office bulged with money, and 10 Tony nominations followed with three wins, though Best Musical was not among them.
WITCHY WOMEN: DeCicco and Matlock.
So it’s a financial phenomenon as much as a musical that’s come to Providence Performing Arts Center (through January 21). A year ago the show beat The Producers for the highest one-week ticket gross on Broadway ($1.6 million). Quite a crowd-pleaser was fashioned from the best-selling novel that imagined a pre-Dorothy life for the Wicked Witch of the West.
There is plenty to visually entertain in these 2-1/2 hours of musical spectacle, and the central tale of two young witches in training gets us to laugh and hiss in all the right places. But the storytelling is another matter, full of questionable motivations and plot contrivances designed to make the story fit neatly with details we’re so familiar with from the 1939 movie. Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Godspell) provide lots of filler numbers that march in place rather than advance the plot. The book is by Winnie Holtzman, who created TV’s admirably written series My So-Called Life, which wrestled with adolescent angst; that explains why the relationship of Glinda (Christina DeCicco) and Elphaba (Victoria Matlock) is the only amply convincing one in the show.
Our story starts with Glinda the Good Witch floating down to speak to the Ozians after some little girl melted the Wicked Witch of the West. After the Munchkins sing “No One Mourns the Wicked,” Glinda proceeds to soften their harsh assessment by explaining the life of — who knew? — her old school chum.
Elphaba had always been a social outcast because of her green skin, acquired after her mother became addicted to some sort of green elixir. It wasn’t easy being, uh, Elphaba. Her father, the governor of Munchkinland, wanted nothing to do with her, and she was sent to the university only to take care of her wheelchair-bound sister, Nessarose (Deedee Magno Hall). At first Glinda, being a popular blonde cheerleader type, is among the cruelly disdainful at Ol’ Shiz. But when she gives the outcast an ugly hat she received from a relative — the pointy black one we now associate with witches — and Elphaba defiantly wears it at a school dance, Glinda is won over and decides that they should become fast friends.
Predictably, a man comes between them. Fiyero (Cliffton Hall) is a cocky young prince, and he and Glinda instantly hook up, singing “Dancing Through Life,” less out of romance than because each is used to the best. Poor, neglected Nessarose — whom we know is destined to become the Wicked Witch of the East — becomes smitten with Boq (Josh Lamon), a Munchkin who takes her to a dance only to be close to Glinda. Green-eyed envy and soul-twisting bitterness follow. Another character who is here more because of the novel than for story necessity is the Wizard (P.J. Benjamin), who gets to sing “Wonderful,” a shameless reverse-engineered ripoff of “Mr. Cellophane,” from Chicago.