It's gonna be popuuuuular
Seven years in, Wicked still casts a spell
Gone are the days when traveling musical productions were a pale imitation of the Broadway versions. They've been banished, at least from the land of Oz.
Wicked, running at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts through July 25, boasts incredible production values, some blockbuster songs and two superstar leads in Donna Vivino's Elphaba and Chandra Lee Schwartz's Glinda.
The show has now traveled three times to Houston in the seven years since the Broadway debut, and it runs like a well-oiled machine. According to production stage manager Peter Van Dyke, the traveling production regularly earns more than the New York show, which garners more than $1.5 million per week.
Were it not for the standout quality of the leads, the star of the show could easily be the rich sets. From the dragon grumbling menacingly overhead to Glinda's bubble lift, the wizard's public face and the chaotic scene in the rain, this is a show with so many moving parts it would be impressive on a purely technical level if the audience wasn't busy being thoroughly transported inside its world of magic.
Vivino has the jaw-dropping voice and the bone structure to pull off Elphaba's green, but in pure stage presence she's surpassed by Schwartz, who plays Glinda with a healthy helping of Elle Woods, practically skipping across the stage and giggling through the first act, most notably pausing to worship her shoe collection during "Popular."
The only real hiccup in the production on Thursday night was when large portions of the audience seemed unprepared for the beginning of the second act. With Wicked, there are always certain sticking points for critics — the second act doesn't live up musically to the first, some dance scenes are a bit overwrought, etc.
But Wicked is the rarest of musicals — one that truly shows its leads as complex, imperfect characters instead of archetypes, all while wrapping them in a familiar tale with creatively re-imagined lessons that feel real, never hokey. Talk about defying gravity.
Whether seeing Wicked for the first or 10th time, this production is a joy to experience.