The story of “Wicked” belongs to the girl witches at center stage, Gina Beck’s Glinda and Emma Hunton’s Elphaba, whose terrific onstage chemistry helps this long-touring show play with fresh energy.
“Wicked,” of course, is the still-playing, still-touring, still-setting-box-office-records Broadway musical explaining the relationship of Glinda and Elphaba, the good and the wicked witches, in the time before and after the story of “The Wizard of Oz.”
The book by Winnie Holzman, from TV’s “My So-Called Life,” “thirtysomething” and “Once and Again,” beautifully understands female angst, while Stephen Schwartz’s score succeeds at being both catchy and richly complicated.
The cast for this third Salt Lake City run, which opened Wednesday and plays through Aug. 24, is terrific. And in their duets, Beck and Hunton sell the score’s terrifically clever lyrical themes and reprises.
As an actor, Beck is relaxed and playfully agile, but somehow stops short of perky territory, even if her dance shoes and swirling petticoats almost amount to a character of their own.
Hunton’s Elphaba is frumpy in all the right places, punctuating her growing powers with fluttering, expressive hand gestures.
Both leads deliver their characters’ trademark numbers with aplomb. Beck’s rich soprano delivers “Popular,” the catchy crowd pleaser, with just enough goofy narcissistic humor, nicely offset by a cupboard packed with 21 pairs of shoes. The clarity of Hunton’s rich belting voice on the high-flying “Defying Gravity” sells the song’s dual emotions of defiance and swelling confidence.
But she also richly empowers her character’s emotional heart in quieter moments, such as the yearning “I’m Not That Girl,” transforming that lovely song into one of the highlights in a show filled with them.
Nick Adams, as Fiyero, the boy who comes between the girls, is a powerfully confident dancer with charisma to spare. Yet the character believably bares his romantic heart in a late duet with Elphaba, “As Long as You’re Mine.” I’m not a fan of the staging of kneeling duets, but my eye was caught by the sight of Fiyero’s hand entwined with Elphaba’s green digits, a lovely expression of embracing difference.
Depicting a white-and-green love affair is just one of the many powerful, sly themes in a story that questions what it means to be wicked, as well as what it means to be good. As the Wizard says: “Where I come from, we believe all sorts of things that aren’t true. We call it history.”
In fact, while Tim Kazurinsky’s Wizard can’t resist overacting a bit, he makes the most of his character’s delicious lines. “You lied to them?” Elphaba asks incredulously. “Only verbally,” he admits. “They were the lies they wanted to hear.”
The touring show — with its $14 million price tag — delivers brilliant stage spectacle in the form of Eugene Lee’s steampunk sets and Kenneth Posner’s sophisticated lighting design, all enhanced by Elaine J. McCarthy’s projections. Those projections and the power of the athletes/actors who play the flying monkeys are brilliantly packaged.
Susan Hilferty’s sharply angled, richly textured costume design deserves at least a paragraph of its own. It is, simply, stunning — mixing the eye candy of “Alice in Wonderland’s” Mad Hatter with Cecil Beaton’s costumes from the racetrack scene of “My Fair Lady.”
Another thing that’s magical about stagecraft of “Wicked” is how it begins to reveal more of itself on repeat viewings. I found myself picking up more of the “Wizard of Oz” allusions, like the punch made of “lemons and melons and pears — oh my,” which is served at the Ozdust ballroom.
After all, as Glinda directs, “just take that one road the whole time,” and with the magic of “Wicked,” you won’t get lost.
It’s gonna be pop-u-lar
R Strong chemistry and fresh characterizations are matched by powerhouse voices in the touring “Wicked,” still fresh after 9 ½ years on the road.
When • Reviewed Thursday; runs through Aug. 24: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday; additional at 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 14.
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $55-$175 (plus $8-$9 in fees); 801-355-2787 or arttix.org
Running time • Two hours and 45 minutes, including intermission.
Tip • Best ticket availability is on Sundays and the matinee performance on Thursday, Aug. 14.
Also • A limited number of orchestra seats will be available in a day-of drawing. You can sign up at the Capitol Theatre box office 2 ½ hours before showtime for the chance to win two tickets. Names will be drawn 30 minutes later. Tickets are available for $25 each, cash only; valid photo ID required.