Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Popular musical proves itself totally Oz-some

Misunderstood witch’s story still satisfies on every score

  • Print

The return to Winnipeg of the touring musical Wicked — the untold story of a misunderstood witch of colour — convincingly confirms that its appeal is evergreen.

A repeat viewing at the Centennial Concert Hall after a three-year interval has not altered the appreciation for this complete — and completely satisfying — stage spectacle, featuring flying monkeys, a soaring score and airborne witches.

Wicked delivers dazzle and depth with a tale that is moving, funny and timely. The only disappointment came before Thursday night’s show, when it was learned that star Laurel Harris was off sick with a sinus infection and her understudy, Alyssa Fox, would go on as the emerald-hued wicked witch Elphaba. Fox’s stellar performance, however, only raised curiosity about how Harris could be any better.

In his 1995 book, novelist Gregory Maguire spun off L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to give the future Wicked Witch of the West a history, focusing on her friendship with Glinda the Good Witch in the land of Oz before Dorothy dropped in.

The story gradually meets up with the Wizard of Oz, with scenes reminiscent of the 1939 movie. Along the way, the movie’s fans get answers to several questions, including how Elphaba came to wear the distinctive, all-black costume and pointy hat, where her green skin came from, and how the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow found themselves wanting.

But at its essence, Wicked is a buddy story about schoolmates Elphaba, with her smarts, magical powers and a cauldron-sized chip on her shoulder caused by her frightening appearance, and Galinda (her pre-witch name), who is, in sharp contrast, the fairest of them all (as well as ditsy, spoiled and blondfully ambitious).

One of the heartfelt moments of the evening finds a young Elphaba, not so comfortable in her green skin, defiantly alone on the dance floor at the Ozdust Ballroom, making spastic moves reminiscent of Seinfeld’s Elaine while her contemptuous fellow students snicker. She is saved from her moment of crushing awkwardness and loneliness when Glinda tentatively joins her and they take their first clumsy steps towards friendship. Elphaba becomes a hero for many young girls because they can empathize with the way her parents rejected her and schoolmates shunned her.

Fox possesses the big mezzo-soprano voice that Elphaba needs, and she brought down the house with her signature numbers The Wizard and I, Everest and Defying Gravity, the first-act climax that sends the audience into intermission wowed.

She also proved that she can dial down her feminist passion and display vulnerability in the haunting musical gem I’m Not That Girl, which expresses a sentiment many in the audience can sadly identify with.

Right from the moment the beaming Galinda floats onstage in her metal bubble with the greeting, "It’s so good to see me, isn’t it," she is perky perfection. She’s right; it is always good to see her onstage during the almost three-hour evening. Kara Lindsay brings real comic magic to the irresistible tune Popular, in which she wiggles, sashays and flounces in her attempt to make over Elphaba.

Kathy Fitzgerald makes Madame Morrible marvelously malevolent, while Matt Shingledecker’s heroic Fiyero is far more three-dimensional than the previously seen incarnation of the character. Understudy Lauren Haughton, as the tragic Nessarose, also puts a grittier edge on what always seems a thankless role.

Lee Slobotkin is an appealing Munchkin Boq, whose tortured heart leads to a surprising and familiar development. Gene Weygandt’s ethically challenged Wizard of Oz is both fatherly and, when he has to be, menacing.

Visually, Wicked is a wonder, starting with Eugene Lee’s Victorian steampunk set, which suggests the inside of a giant clock. The smoke-breathing, red-eyed dragon looming over the stage is impressive but otherwise irrelevant. Susan Hilferty’s whimsical costumes appear to be a cross between Tim Burton and Dr. Seuss, while Kenneth Posner’s lighting adds to the eye candy even in quiet moments, as when a slanted rain falls on a despondent Elphaba.

Stephen Schwartz’s rich and catchy score holds Wicked all together, although the first act’s numbers are far superior. An accepted measure of a good musical is whether patrons leave humming any of the songs; on the way out Thursday night, it sounded like the peppy Popular was the clear crowd favourite.


Updated on Friday, August 22, 2014 at 5:55 PM CDT: Adds photos

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Three injured in Sherbrook Street fire

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 060711 Chris Pedersen breeds Monarch butterflies in his back yard in East Selkirk watching as it transforms from the Larva or caterpillar through the Chrysalis stage to an adult Monarch. Here an adult Monarch within an hour of it emerging from the Chrysalis which can be seen underneath it.
  • Two baby tigers were unveiled at the Assiniboine Park Zoo this morning, October 3rd, 2011. (TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Has your opinion of Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec changed given his latest winning streak?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google