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Colour us delighted

Theatrical spectacle about Oz's green-skinned witch an unabashed crowd-pleaser

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/8/2011 (3195 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It's not easy being green -- but it also makes for a wickedly good show

It's not easy being green -- but it also makes for a wickedly good show

There was a time when being unapologetically green was not socially acceptable.

Before it gained its earth-friendly cachet, the colour was associated with aliens from Mars, not so-kissable frogs and the Wicked Witch of the West, who famously melted at the conclusion of the landmark 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz.

The musical phenomenon Wicked, making its Winnipeg debut after almost eight years of sellouts on Broadway, attempts to rescue her reputation with the untold backstory of how the emerald-skinned outcast became the infamous black-clad crone on a broomstick.

Adapted from Gregory Maguire's 1995 adult novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, the acclaimed stage collaboration between Winnie Holzman (book) and Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics), rewinds all the way back to the witch's birth, when Elphaba, as she is called, is immediately rejected by her father the moment he lays eyes on the cabbage-hued bundle of no joy.

Green is the dominant colour of this crowd-pleasing Oz-ian spectacle -- and you'll need some to get a good ticket -- but it is also a signal to go. Wicked-goers should be over the rainbow with this American touring production, as there is much to like, starting with Eugene Lee's impressive steampunk clock set (which can strike 13 o'clock), Susan Hilferty's fabulous Emerald City costumes (princesses Beatrice and Eugenie would approve of the fascinators) and Kenneth Posner's evocative lighting. Dieters, beware the copious eye candy: flying monkeys; a levitating witch; and the metal, red-eyed dragon that rests atop the proscenium of the Centennial Concert Hall.

Natalie Daradich (Glinda), left, and Anne Brummel (Elphaba).

Natalie Daradich (Glinda), left, and Anne Brummel (Elphaba).

Wicked is essentially the story of Elphaba and her lifelong on-again, off-again relationship with Glinda, a vision of blond, perky, goody-two-shoes perfection. L. Frank Baum's American fairy tale gets turned on its head as if hit by a cyclone. It's no longer a black-and-white -- or green-and-white -- question as to who is good and who is evil. Characters who appear to be one thing are something different underneath.

Elphaba is not so bad, in spite of the cold-hearted treatment by her classmates. She proves to be likable, a committed do-gooder and a stand-up witch.

Glinda, the future Good Witch of the South, is a self-loving, spoiled mean girl. The beloved Wizard of Oz turns out to be a master political manipulator/charlatan who demonizes others as a ploy to bring his citizens together against a common enemy. The initially encouraging teacher, Madame Morrible, also shows her true colours when she becomes the Wizard's press secretary and dastardly operative.

Maguire has attached several political themes and historical reminders to his none-too-subtle musical lecture about a world where telling the truth and speaking your mind are seen as wicked. While adults in the audience may observe the beware-your-government message and scapegoating of minorities, Wicked works best as a female-empowerment tale of two opposites who become unlikely best friends. Holzman, through her defining TV work as the writer of My So-Called Life, knows that demographic; she understands how teens will respond to questions about who's popular, who's not, bullying and getting the wrong first impression.

None of that works if there is not a palpable chemistry between co-stars Anne Brummel (Elphaba) and Natalie Daradich (Glinda). Both are vocal powerhouses on Schwartz's array of similar-sounding power ballads, which begin to wear thin in the less-satisfying second act.

Daradich makes a great ditzy bubblehead the moment she makes her high-flying entrance with the greeting, "It's so good to see me." This squealing amalgam of Betty Boop and Legally Blonde's Elle Woods is a shameless crowd-pleaser, preening and pouting, cajoling and captivating. Outfitted in ruffled pink froth, the Toronto-bred soprano's performance of the show's most irresistible tune, Popular -- about the Glinda-fication of Elphaba -- is a comic masterpiece.

Brummel belts impressively -- she brings the first-act curtain down with an exclamation point and provides emotional elevation with Elphaba's signature song, Defying Gravity. She conveys her feelings with depth best in I'm Not That Girl, a touching anthem for the broken-hearted.

The supporting cast is strong, with David Nathan Perlow as the handsome suitor in the middle of the love triangle and a convincing Don Amendolia as a passive-aggressive sleazebag Wizard. Martin Moran's Dr. Dillamond is likable; Alma Cuervo's Madame Morrible not so much.

One of the pleasures of Wicked is how it answers burning questions raised in the iconic movie, such as: How did Ephaba get her pointy witch hat and black ensemble?; Where did her green skin come from?; What happened to the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow?; and, How did those flying monkeys get their wings?

The surprises don't end there, as you will see.

Theatre review


  • Centennial Concert Hall
  • To Sept. 4
  • Tickets: $76.50-$138.70 at Ticketmaster
  • 4 1/2 stars out of five


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