In case you haven't been near a radio, TV or newspaper for a month, you might not know that Wicked is back -- the show's second time here. It's an eye-popping spectacle with an interesting backstory.
In 1900, author L. Frank Baum published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which turned out so successfully it spawned 13 more Oz-themed books as well as an early Broadway musical and a whole raft of film versions -- including, of course, the legendary 1939 MGM musical with Judy Garland.
Fast-forward to 1995 and Gregory Maguire's novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, about life in Oz right up until Dorothy falls from the sky. The book's premise is that the Wicked Witch -- named Elphaba (from the initials of L. Frank Baum) -- is actually one of the few non-wicked people in Oz, a virtual police state run by a charlatan where dissension and "otherness" are brutally punished. Wicked is not for children; its theme and content are dark and adult.
The novel served as a basis for the musical Wicked, which opened on Broadway in 2003. Composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz and book-writer Winnie Holman, however, used the book's concept as inspiration rather than blueprint. Elphaba is still the misunderstood green-skinned heroine, but the musical emphasizes her relationship with Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. The musical, in fact, is mostly about their long friendship (they were college roommates) and how events in Oz jeopardize it.
But where Wicked (the novel) is based on the L. Frank Baum books, in tone and attitude, Wicked (the musical) is based on the MGM musical; most of the second act, in fact, weaves in and out of plot holes in the movie.
I have to say I'm not much of a fan of Schwartz (writer of Pippin, Godspell and The Baker's Wife), but he sure knows his way around writing power ballads ... as evidenced by Wicked's hair-raising first-act curtain number "Defying Gravity," in which Elphaba (played by Carmen Cusack) realizes that she can fly; it truly is a monumental theatrical moment.
This PNC Broadway Across America show features knock-out performances by every member of the cast, and the entire production is the most lavishly outfitted tour I've ever seen: breathtaking sets, lights and costumes. Here's one show where you definitely get your money's worth.
Wicked continues through Oct 5. Benedum Center, 719 Liberty Ave., Downtown. 412-456-6666.