Uplifting 'Wicked' will make you shake your broom at Dorothy

  • Elphaba (Lissa deGuzman) realizes the extent of her magical powers as she sings "Defying Gravity" in Broadway in Chicago's "Wicked."

    Elphaba (Lissa deGuzman) realizes the extent of her magical powers as she sings "Defying Gravity" in Broadway in Chicago's "Wicked." Courtesy of Joan Marcus

 
 
Updated 10/4/2022 4:19 PM

"Wicked" -- ★ ★ ★

A good measure of success for any "Wicked" production is whether the audience leaves hating the little girl from Kansas who doused the Wicked Witch of the West.

 

Broadway in Chicago's joyfully edgy reboot of the disruptive musical registers high on the anti-Dorothy scale.

As aficionados know, "Wicked" was adapted from author Gregory Maguire's unconventional book riffing on L. Frank Baum's unconventional fairy tale "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."

Elphaba (Lissa deGuzman) gives her friend Glinda (Jennafer Newberry) her book of spells before vanishing from Oz in "Wicked," playing through Dec. 4 at Chicago's James M. Nederlander Theatre.
Elphaba (Lissa deGuzman) gives her friend Glinda (Jennafer Newberry) her book of spells before vanishing from Oz in "Wicked," playing through Dec. 4 at Chicago's James M. Nederlander Theatre. - Courtesy of Joan Marcus

The noir prequel at Chicago's James M. Nederlander Theatre intertwines girl power, authoritarianism and a paradox: "Are people born wicked? Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?"

Oh, and it's funny, too, requiring multiple pivots from stars Lissa deGuzman as Elphaba and Jennafer Newberry as Glinda.

"Wicked" debuted on Broadway in 2003 with Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth setting the bar for the fraught friends.

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In this latest version, deGuzman and Newberry don't disappoint, crackling with energy when they engage.

DeGuzman captures the vulnerability of young Elphaba, plagued by father issues and bullied at Shiz University for her green skin.

Despite being in danger from the Wizard's forces, Elphaba (Lissa deGuzman) and Fiyero (Jordan Litz) take a moment for romance in "Wicked."
Despite being in danger from the Wizard's forces, Elphaba (Lissa deGuzman) and Fiyero (Jordan Litz) take a moment for romance in "Wicked." - Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Newberry is an irresistibly flaky Glinda, who tosses off lyrics like "Whenever I see someone less fortunate than I -- And let's face it, who isn't?" with polish in a sparkling "Popular."

The university campus frames the unlikely bond between Elphaba and Glinda and a love triangle that erupts with the entrance of dashing playboy Prince Fiyero.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But beyond the romance and growing pains is a disturbing threat as the talking animals of Oz are silenced and imprisoned.

Amid the crucible, deGuzman's Elphaba deftly morphs from nerdy wallflower to the most feared woman in Oz, her strong voice producing chills in the power anthem "Defying Gravity."

Newberry's Glinda evolves from popular party girl to standing alone in her metal bubble -- the leader of Oz.

Glinda (Jennafer Newberry) descends to adoring Ozians, who ask about her friendship with the Wicked Witch of the West in "Wicked."
Glinda (Jennafer Newberry) descends to adoring Ozians, who ask about her friendship with the Wicked Witch of the West in "Wicked." - Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Jordan Litz is a charismatic Fiyero, who falls for Elphaba and becomes an activist, finding his conscience and brain on the way.

Tempering the younger characters' passion is veteran John Bolton's subtle Oz. He's charmingly vaudevillian in "Wonderful," and cheerfully terrifying in rationalizing the animal suppression doctrine: "The best way to bring folks together is to give them a really good enemy."

Some of Broadway's most-loved musicals involve violence -- who could forget Jud trying to immolate Laurey and Curly atop a haystack in "Oklahoma."

In "Wicked," however, the violence is appropriately grotesque. One unforgettable moment comes as the witch sisters, Elphaba and Nessarose (Kimberly Immanuel), desperately try to save Munchkin Boq's life only to revive him as a horror-struck Tin Man.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (John Bolton) hides his true nature as he sings "A Sentimental Man" in "Wicked" at Chicago's James M. Nederlander Theatre.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (John Bolton) hides his true nature as he sings "A Sentimental Man" in "Wicked" at Chicago's James M. Nederlander Theatre. - Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Rounding out a deep cast is Natalie Venetia Belcon's two-faced Madame Morrible and Michael Genet's Doctor Dillamond, whose bleating devolution is painful to watch.

The costuming is glorious -- from Glinda's over-the-top frills to a gloomy Dickensian look for the Ozians, and Emerald City outfits that evoke Capitol fashion from the "Hunger Games."

For kids, BIC's "Wicked" is a magical romp about believing in yourself. For adults, it will touch a nerve, as in Elphaba and Glinda's final meeting -- college roomies no more but grown women confronting the choices they made in their lives.

• • •

Location: James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000, broadwayinchicago.com

Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 4. No show on Nov. 24.

Tickets: Start at $59

Running time: About 2 hours, 45 minutes, with intermission

Parking: Nearby garages

COVID-19 precautions: Masking recommended

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