The Wicked witch is back | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Wicked witch is back

And there's no excuse for missing the touring production of the blockbuster stage prequel to The Wizard of Oz.


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To all you hard-core fans who took second mortgages and third jobs so you could afford to attend performance after performance of Wicked when it played Chicago from 2005 to 2009: the answer is yes, you'll be pleased with this touring production. To all you snoots who've disdained every opportunity to see the blockbuster musical since its Broadway premiere ten years ago: Give up. Now. Surrender, Dorothy, it's time.

Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman's stage prequel to the 1939 movie version of The Wizard of Oz finds sophisticated themes in the tale of how Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, earned her defining adjective. Certainly, the show looks at the psychic effects and political uses of intolerance as it follows Elphaba's Bernardine Dohrn-esque evolution from honors student to outlaw. But viewing it this time around, I was especially affected by the way Schwartz and Holzman deal with experience—with the simple, difficult fact that what we do determines who we become, marking us permanently in ways we can't imagine even as the process is taking place.

The witty book and songs are sharply realized here by a cast starring Alison Luff as Elphaba and charming Jenn Gambatese as the putatively "good" witch, Glinda. (Singer/game show host John Davidson sneaks in there, too, as the Wizard.) And the visual effects are every bit as stunning as they should be—especially during the moment of Elphaba's transfiguration into, well, what experience makes of her.

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