Wicked – An Atlanta Theater Fans Review

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Amanda Jane Cooper and Dee Roscioli star in the First National Tour of Wicked. Photo by Joan Marcus

While the first notes of any musical’s overture are exciting, there’s a noticeable difference in an audience’s energy at Wicked. When the orchestra begins, the Time Dragon Clock comes to life and the flying monkeys take the stage. Moments later, the  monkeys pull back the map of Oz and transport the audience into the story of two of the most familiar witches in literary and cinema history.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Winnie Holzman, Wicked is loosely based on Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Since its Broadway opening on October 30, 2003, Wicked still performs to sold-out houses. Plus, two strong-selling touring companies feature almost identical set and staging elements to the Broadway show.

When Wicked first opened on Broadway, many critics praised the performances and design elements while citing problems with the story. Are there a few holes in the story? Yes; but are they important enough to prohibit your enjoyment or hinder what you’ll be able to take away from the musical? Absolutely not. The universal themes of acceptance and friendship resonate with viewers of all ages, both female and male.

For the third time, the First National Tour of Wicked is back at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre. As someone who has seen various casts of the First National Tour, the Second National Tour and the Broadway production (not original cast) for a total of five times, I found myself pleasantly surprised to discover that this production features the best cast I’ve seen overall. I won’t go so far to say that each cast member is the best to have ever played the roles (although a couple may actually be), but as a collective group they astonish. Along with Wayne Cilento’s choreography and Susan Hilferty’s unique and intricate costumes, the musical’s cast creates a magical experience.

Appearing in the Broadway, Chicago and San Francisco productions, Dee Roscioli has played the role of the misunderstood and unusually green Elphaba more times than any other actress. Her mastery of the role shines through as she displays the character’s hope and determination.

When Elphaba first takes the stage, the theater erupts in applause, which has become a tradition in Wicked’s productions across the country. Roscioli quickly shows the audience that she deserves applause with her vocally-flawless “The Wizard and I.”  Her voice paired with Schwartz’s music make the moments where Roscioli is alone on stage (“The Wizard and I” and “No Good Deed”) mesmerizing.

Wicked isn’t just a story about the green witch; it’s also about Galinda, who later becomes known as Glinda the Good. Played by Amanda Jane Cooper, Glinda is the bubbly “popular” girl who forms an unlikely friendship with Elphaba. Cooper has taken this well-known role and added her own pizzazz to it. “Popular” stands out as moment where her comedic talent shines as she elicits laughs and cheers with her makeover of Elphaba. The inspiring chemistry she shares with Roscioli radiates throughout the show, especially during “Defying Gravity” and “For Good.”

A talented ensemble and group of supporting players join Roscioli and Cooper. Mark Jacoby brings impressive singing chops to the role of the Wizard, which have not been possessed by many of his predecessors. More than just a great singer, Jacoby excels in the role because of the every-man quality he brings to the Wizard. Additionally, Colin Hanlon plays a charming Fiyero, while Stefanie Brown and Justin Brill are spot-on as Nessarose and Boq.

Alma Cuervo returns to the First National Tour of Wicked. Photo by Joan Marcus

The best of the supporting cast, however, is Alma Cuervo who returns to the role of Madame Morrible for Atlanta’s third opening. Cuervo recently covered the role for three weeks on the Second National Tour, but it’s interesting to note that she played Madame Morrible in 2006 when Wicked flew into Atlanta for the first time. Just with a quick glance, smile, or head movement, Cuervo embodies all the expectation and ambition that are inherent to Madame Morrible’s character. Her brief monologue at the end of the first act is chilling.

In addition to Cuervo, several other cast members return to the Fox Theatre stage. Paul Slade Smith plays the role of Dr. Dillamond, a role he understudied when the First National Tour was last in Atlanta in 2008. In his limited stage time, Smith makes a strong impression as the sole animal faculty member of Shiz University. Atlanta also welcomes back Renée Lawless-Orsini as the Midwife, Christopher Russo as part of the ensemble and Philip Dean Lightstone as the Dance Captain and swing, performing the same roles they held in 2008.

Wicked surely has a long life ahead and will probably return to Atlanta again in several years. But don’t wait until then; see it while you have the chance now. Whether it’s your first time seeing it or you’re returning, Wicked offers so much to see and experience. The musical will continue to cast its spell at the Fox Theatre through October 9. Tickets are available at the Fox Theatre box office, at all Ticketmaster outlets, at www.ticketmaster.com/wicked or by calling 1-800-982-2787.

– A. Wesley