An interesting aspect of the 2003 Broadway musical Wicked is how it has been transformed over the years from an entertainment into an industry.
This re-imagining of L. Frank Baum's Wonderful Wizard of Oz (via Gregory Maguire's 1995 novel) features music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a script by Winnie Holzman. The concept is that the Wicked Witch is the only "non-wicked" person in Oz, vilified because of her skin color and liberal views.
The show received mixed-to-good reviews when it opened, losing the Tony that year to Avenue Q. But since then …
Wicked is now an entertainment juggernaut. Touring companies ring the world with permanent productions in major cities. It's at full capacity on Broadway and has seeped into popular culture. (Wicked is constantly referenced on Glee. One can only imagine the frenzy once the planned movie is released.)
You get a sense of that rolling impregnable edifice when the tour sets down squarely on the stage at the Benedum as part of the PNC Broadway Across America series.
You're immediately overwhelmed by the mammoth proportions of the show and the dazzling (and stunning) set designs of Eugene Lee. And you could spend the whole night lost in the nuance of Susan Hilferty's unbelievably detailed costumes -- the hats worn by the Emerald City citizens alone deserve their own production.
But the value of Wicked isn't only in its physical properties. Joe Mantello's ruthless direction keeps the story front and center, and Holzman's book has enough humor and quiet moments to stand up to the spectacle. The show debuted during the start of the Iraq war, but instead of feeling dated, the many parallels drawn between the Bush/Cheney administration and the empty tricks of the Wizard are even more interesting.
The trouble with these tours is that, on some level, they are huge financial investments, which can often hamstring the performers: This is meant to be an exact copy of a successful formula. But even within that dynamic, Natalie Daradich, as Glinda, and Anne Brummel, as Elphaba, turn in powerful and fiercely committed performances. And I also happily note that Alma Cuervo's Madame Morrible is the best I've ever seen.
WICKED continues through Oct. 2. Benedum Center, 719 Liberty Ave., Downtown. 412-456-6666.