Theater Review: PPAC's 'Wicked' Makes Fans Go Wild

Sep 27, 2016

“Wicked” that ultimate prequel to “The Wizard of Oz” is back at the Providence Performing Arts Center. Rhode Island Public Radio’s Bill Gale says it’s a fine Broadway quality production its many fans are going to love.

That is for sure. After all, “Wicked,” that great tear jerkier about two women working things out even as Oz approaches, has been a crowd pleaser for nearly 14 years on Broadway and has been seen by more than two million fans around the world.

And this production is absolutely first-rate. The six-person orchestra is vibrant and hot. The setting, by the masterful Providence-based designer Eugene Lee, excites audiences all night long. His great wild animals mix with deadly gray mechanical fixtures that look to times past, and perhaps speak to the future, too.

The lighting by New York veteran Kenneth Posner continually brings about change. It's bright eyed and staggering one moment, and illuminates fear and shame another. The Tony-winning costumes of Susan Hilferty are a divine show all by them themselves.

What about the cast, you say? Well, from head to toe they are comparable to what you'll see in New York.

Jessica Vosk, whose career has gone from Wall Street to Broadway, is a magnificent Elphaba, conveying almost inhuman meanness at times, and literally shaken to tears others. When she sings arias such as “I'm Not That Girl” and “No Good Deed,” she shakes the theater with realness, drive and need, all at once.

Vosk's performance is matched by Amanda Jane Cooper's lighter than air, boldly silly, but clearly strong maneuvering, Glinda, that sweet little thing who's always working to get what she wants. Whether she's singing “Popular” a song all about how swell she is, or is ripping into “No One Mourns the Wicked” she's someone you always want to watch and hear.

When the two of these stars get into the duet “For Good,” well, the audience goes wild, as it should.

Secondary actors are real pros in this production. In the big cast it's impossible to mention them all. But longtime New York vet Stuart Zagnit is wonderful as The Wizard. He's the very image of a theater professional. And the ensembles -- dozens of them -- are just fine all night long.

So what's not to like? Well, some things. There's an old Broadway belief which says that if a musical is going to be sassed, it's the book writer who'll get it. And that's true with “Wicket” written by Winnie Holzman.  For all the show's good points, it's filled with obvious, lame jokes. Take the line that mentions someone has a mother and adds “as so many do,” or another where “innuendo” is followed with “in the window.” Let's just say that the plot is overdone and over long, throughout.

But, hey, the work overall is quite fine in this production with artistic quality and mechanical bravado.  So, if you are a “Wicked” lover this one is worth seeing again.

Oz lives on at PPAC. Very well, indeed.

“Wicked” continues at PPAC through October 8. Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio.