Total Rating: 
October 7, 2003
October 30, 2003
open run (as of September 2014)
New York
New York
Marc Platt, Universal Pictures, The Araca Group, Jon B Platt & David Stone.
Theater Type: 
Gershwin Theater
Theater Address: 
221 West 51st Street
Running Time: 
2 hrs, 45 min
Score: Stephen Schwartz; Book: Winnie Holzman, adapting Gregory Maguire novel
Joe Mantello

 So much happened before Dorothy dropped in ... reads the poster for the musical, Wicked. Don't take those words lightly. Those familiar with "The Wizard of Oz" (and who isn't?) will never feel the same about the beloved Judy Garland film after seeing the revelatory "backstory" of Oz offered in Wicked. At the heart of this complex, multi-faceted story is the lifelong friendship between two women. One of them, a diminutive, dippy blonde called Glinda (Kristin Chenoweth), seems destined for future fame. The other, a tall, awkward, bright and green-skinned girl named Elphaba (Idina Menzel), overcomes her shyness and insecurities to make her mark on the world, too. Although one is swayed to root for the underdog (Elphaba), one also has a great deal of empathy for Glinda, who realizes too late that there's more to life than being popular.

Director Joe Mantello balances the performances of these two women so artfully, one cannot be blamed for switching sympathies in midstream, if so desired. Idina Menzel (who won a Tony Award) and Kristin Chenoweth (who perhaps should have demanded a recount) both hold the stage so securely that the other characters add an almost unnecessary dimension to the story. The best of these is Elphaba's crippled sister, Nessarose (Michelle Federer). Although she is slightly mentioned in "The Wizard of Oz," Nessarose fosters Elphaba's childhood guilt. Although a post-adolescent, Elphaba is well on her way to coming out of her shell. She's assisted in this effort by a good-looking slacker, Fiyero (Norbert Leo Butz). As soon as Fiyero arrives on the college campus where Elphaba and Glinda are taking classes, the competition for his attention begins. It is as astonishing to Glinda as it is to Elphaba that Fiyero turns out to be more broad-minded than one would guess. Choosing brains and spirit over beauty, he picks Elphaba. She has more lessons to learn, however. Elphaba travels to the Emerald City and crosses the scheming Wizard. Realizing that the fate of Oz is in her hands, she croons the evening's best tune, "Defying Gravity." While this song will never be another "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," it stands out as a testament to women's liberation.

At the performance seen by this reviewer, stand-in Sean McCourt played the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Although McCourt gave a good effort, I missed the short, cuddly septuagenarian, Joel Grey. His nimble hoofing and twinkling eyes easily would have won over the audience, while McCourt presents a more brutish, formidable Wizard.

delights from beginning to end, with more than a few twists and surprises to keep the audience's full attention. This is a good thing, as the huge, industrial-looking set could be a distraction otherwise. In addition to having its share of wheels and cogs, the set is topped by an enormous dragon puppet. A small crew of stagehands (well within sight of the audience) operates the puppet's neck and wings at several points during the show. Both the set and the costumes deserve their Tony Awards.

Interestingly, the costumes play with our sense of fashion as well as our sense of self. Dressing the ensemble in brightly colored costumes that jut out at odd angles makes it all the more ridiculous for them pointing out the "strangeness" of Elphaba's skin color. They look pretty odd, themselves.

Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel (Elphaba), Joel Grey (Wizard), Carole Shelley, Norbert Leo Butz, Christopher Fitzgerald, Michelle Federer, William Youmans, Ioana Alfonso, Ben Cameron, Cristy Candler, Melissa Bell Chait, Marcus Choi, Kristoffer Cusick, Kathy Deitch, Melissa Fahn, Rhett G. George, Kristen Lee Gorski, Manuel Herrera, Kisha Howard, Jan Neuberger, LJ Jellison, Sean McCourt, Corinne McFadden, Mark Myars, Walter Winston ONeil, Andrew Palermo, Andy Pellick, Michael Seelbach, Lorna Ventura, Derrick Williams
Musical staging: Wayne Cilento; Orchestrations: William David Brohn; Music director: Stephen Oremus. Sets: Eugene Lee; Costumes: Susan Hilferty; Lighting: Kenneth Posner; Sound: Tony Meola; Projections: Elaine J. McCarthy; Wigs/hair: Tom Watson; Production supervisor: Steven Beckler; Dance arrangements: James Lynn Abbott; Special effects: Chic Silber; Flying sequences: Paul Rubin/ZFX Inc.
2004 Tonys: Leading Actress (Menzel), Set, Costumes.
Anne Siegel
Date Reviewed: 
July 2004