Theatre Review: “Wicked” @ Orpheum Theatre, 02/11/10

Three Different Perspectives on the San Francisco production of Wicked:

1. Third Time (once on Broadway, twice in San Francisco) – Written by: Spencer Williams

I had the chance to see the magical San Francisco production of Wicked for a second time this last week. Now, this is the third time I’ve seen Wicked. I saw it back on Broadway a few weeks before Idina Menzel left and when Jennifer Laura Thompson (the 2nd Glinda) was in it. (By the way, Jennifer Laura Thompson was absolutely amazing as Glinda!) Sitting in the expansive Gershwin theatre, I remember being swept away by the lights, music and incredible costumes. This was also before every tween and teenage girl became infatuated with it! I got great orchestra seats (for relatively cheap) on Christmas day and had a great experience. For whatever reason, I never saw it again (probably because after that it was ridiculously hard to get relatively cheap tickets).

Fast forward five years. I recently (back in September) saw the San Francisco production. (I won lottery tickets for $25 bucks!) I had forgotten a lot of the storyline elements that keep Wicked fresh and funny. There is so much left out of the cast recording that I sincerely forgot several of the scenes. I remembered why I enjoyed it so much the first time. And I did get to see the fabulous Patty Duke as Madame Morrible! The standby for Glinda, Natalie Daradich, was on that night. It was only a so-so performance – most of the jokes were lost in the comedic timing but I still thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Now, only a few months later, I had the opportunity to see it again. This time, I saw both Teal Wicks (Elphaba) and Kendra Kassebaum (Glinda) but the cast had changed significantly. There is a new Boq (Etai Benshlomo), Madam Morrible (Jody Gelb), Doctor Dillamond (Paul Slade Smith) and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Tom McGowan). Quite a cast change! All of them were quite worthy of their role and did a very decent job! While I thought Nicolas Dromard’s voice (Fiyero) was perfect for the role, I had a hard time pushing aside the fact that he looks like Gaston and acts similarly.

I think my favorite performer is Elphaba’s sister, Nessarose (Dee Dee Magno Hall).  For sitting in a wheelchair for most of the show, she does an incredible job of creating quite the detailed character. When she sings, “We deserve each other”, after she just put a spell on her love, Boq, you can see her heart breaking into two.

Teal Wicks (Elphaba) has an incredible voice that is both understated and extremely powerful. Of course, “Defying Gravity” was perfect. (Dare I say, more in tune than Idina Menzel’s version?) Throughout the last five years, I’ve had several favorite songs and “No Good Deed” was never one of them. But after hearing Wicks sing “No Good Deed” this has become my favorite song! The build in this song, leads to one of the best climaxes in the show!

Kassebaum definitely went for quirky, a little odd and a bit spastic in her portrayal of Glinda and for the most part it worked quite well. It wasn’t my favorite, but I still laughed a lot. Her hair toss routine was hysterical. Vocally she got better and better throughout the production and her final number was incredibly strong. (I will say that the first number “No One Mourns the Wicked” is quite the doozy, vocally.)

I still think that one of the best parts of seeing Wicked is the costumes. Could they get more stunning? Every thing down to the shoes that they are wearing are literally fantastic. Each time I see Wicked I just can’t get enough of the costumes. They are visually stunning and sometimes overshadows the actual performer.

Overall, I still have a few issues with parts of the book and music but there’s a reason that Wicked has become a cultural phenomenon. There hasn’t been a show that has captured such a wide-ranging audience since Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables. If you haven’t seen Wicked than it’s high-time to get yourself over to the Orpheum Theatre to see the San Francisco production. It’s definitely worth the ticket.

In March, Eden Espinosa is replacing Teal Wicks as Elphaba. It’s just one more reason that you might need to revisit this production of Wicked. I just saw Eden Espinosa in her cabaret performance in San Francisco and what a voice she has! I just might make it a 4th time!

2. Second Time (once on Broadway, once in San Francisco) – Written by: Shenelle Williams

This was my first time seeing Wicked since I saw it on Broadway over five years ago.  I expected to have pretty much the same reaction to the San Francisco production as I did to the Broadway production, (though maybe a little watered down because of the familiarity with the story and music).  Wicked was pretty much that.  I enjoyed the standout musical numbers, was engaged by the solid book and was amazed at the costumes and lighting.

One thing that took me by surprise was Kendra Kassebaum’s performance as Glinda.  Not only was Glinda quirky, but also clumsy and a bit awkward.  I have to admit that I didn’t want to like her performance. But by the second act, I couldn’t get enough.  Kassebaum made the show feel fresh and new.  It was exciting to watch her successfully infuse the comedic clumsiness into songs like “Popular.”

Teal Wicks as Elphaba also experimented with the music in ways that highlighted her strengths (aka incredible voice).  Her performance was so vocally solid that I didn’t think to compare it to other performances.  And let’s be honest, after seeing Idina Menzel as Elphaba, it could have been very tempting to do so.
Ultimately, this production of Wicked was predictably delightful while adding enough interest for the returning audience.

3. First time (San Francisco) – Written by: Drew Williams

I was tired of hearing all the hoopla about the musical Wicked and when the chance came to see it for the first time in San Francisco I jumped at it.

My wife and several friends have tried to explain the story line to me, but even listening to the Original Broadway recording several times, I still didn’t understand the plot. Usually, all conversations ended something like “just go and see it already!” I must say that what made Wicked absolutely spectacular to me were the costumes. The chorus section was neither here nor there for me if it hadn’t been for the beautiful costumes. G’aaaalinda and Elphaba were both incredible and kept me laughing and crying – fully engaged the whole time. The songs are beautiful, the stage was exquisite and the costumes magical.

It was a night well worth my time and well worth the price tag. I can finally understand what my wife was trying to tell me all this time. For those that have seen Wizard of Oz, (who hasn’t?) this adds so much depth to the original storyline. Why wait? Go now!

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3 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “Wicked” @ Orpheum Theatre, 02/11/10

  1. I saw it about five years ago in SF with the tour cast (and once before it went to NYC). Dare it be said, I preferred Eden Espinoza to Idina Menzel, and I positively fell in love with Kendra Kassebaum as Glinda.

    Aside from the extremely loooooooong party scene at the Ozfest Ballroom, the low part of the show is “As Long as You’re Mine.” I love the scene, but the song feels completely out of sync with the rest of the music in the show.

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