Dallas — Everyone is seeing green at the Music Hall at Fair Park, as Dallas Summer Musicals brings back the smash hit musical Wicked. With memorable music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a heartwarming book by Winnie Holzman, the production is based on the 1995 Gregory Maguire novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Directed by Joe Mantello, this peek into the past of the two witches of The Wizard of Oz delivers messages of courage and diversity, while illustrating the importance of perspective.
Ozians, Wickedites, Wickedheads (or whatever they’re called) have been anxiously waiting three years for their beloved show to fly back into Dallas. This translates into traffic nightmares around the Park and long lines at the valet and merchandise stands, due the 3,400-seat auditorium being almost at capacity for each performance of its astonishing five-week run at the Hall.
If those numbers defy your expectations, there’s more. Last month, the musical broke records by reaching the $1 billion (with a large green B) mark faster than any other musical in history. And that only counts sales on Broadway; worldwide tours have grossed three times that amount, as it has played to more than 50 million people in 14 countries, translated into six languages.
Suffice to say, this review can be summed up in one sentence: It’s really good, so just go see it.
But if you’re just dying to know why, let me count the ways. First, the show boasts a strong, varied ensemble. The members prove their singing and performance chops with the powerful opening number “No One Mourns the Wicked,” in which jubilant, bloodthirsty citizens of Oz relish over the death of the Wicked Witch of the West with passionate demeanors and unified voices.
As the production moves into flashback mode, they quickly change to the fresh-faced students of Shiz University and display impressive movement skills in the carefree “Dancing Through Life.” As a whole, they’re better dancers than those of the last tour, but Clay Thomson and Kali Grinder especially shine as the strongest in this segment. Their range expands even more as they shift to the posh players of the Emerald City and to the frantic monkeys and vigilant guards.
If you’ve been keeping track, that’s a lot of costumes, which along with the sets and lighting, are worth the trip as well. Designer Susan Hilferty includes vibrant colors, intricate beading, and subtle eccentricities in each piece of wardrobe, while light designer Kenneth Posner and scenic designer Eugene Lee create settings to enhance every brilliant, contemplative, and ominous tone throughout the show.
Catchy music, sensational visuals, and a remarkable story certainly draw audiences, but the lead performers and their unique takes on the respective characters attract repeat customers. The show has been going on long enough that Wicked frequent flyers have distinct preferences for Glinda and Elphaba, much like those for a certain type of Phantom.
All lead performers demonstrate superb vocals and unique attention to the character, but one’s enjoyment of their portrayals highly depends on said preferences. Emily Koch is sufficiently nerdy as she first stumbles on the stage as Elphaba. Initial songs verge on yelling, but she hits the sweet spot with the iconic “Defying Gravity,” and she staunchly maintains the terse line delivery that makes Elphaba such a relatable character.
Amanda Jane Cooper’s Glinda at times feels overacted, but she’s funny nonetheless, often times garnering the most chuckles with her expressions and gestures. “Popular” varies between growling and screeching at times, which many in the audience found hilarious. She’s at her best, though, in the Act II opener “Thank Goodness,” but all her duets with Koch are pure gold, especially “For Good.” They truly work wonderfully together on stage.
Jake Boyd delivers a solid Fiyero, starting out as the chill, boy-band type then growing more earnest and genuine as events begin to change him. Megan Masako Haley as Elphaba’s sister Nessarose conjures up thrilling vocals every time she opens her mouth to sing, and Wendy Worthington brings a comical cynicism and brashness to Madame Morrible.
Running two-and-a-half hours with intermission, it’s the best so far of the DSM season. The crowds and lines prove that everyone else knows this, too, but it’s worth it.