Adapted for the stage from Gregory Maguire's novel, "Wicked: A New Musical" tells the untold story of the witches of Oz: How one came to be known good and the other wicked.
The story illuminates the beginnings of Glinda the good and Elphaba the wicked and it does so in memorable musical numbers.
It also provides interesting insight into how the Cowardly Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow, as well as the slippers, came to be. If you've seen the landmark 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz," you know what I'm talking about.
The musical humanizes the phosphorescently-green wicked witch by giving her a soul to care for what she knows is important, and a voice to stand up for what she believes in.
It also presents the light-complexioned good witch in a not so flattering glow: obsessed with do-gooder popularity and oozing with pious self-assurance.
It is this gray area of being totally good and totally wicked that will perhaps most resonate with audiences as all of us have goodness and wickedness within us.
Stephen Schwartz is a gifted lyricist and composer and the range of songs in "Wicked" are proof of his versatility.
Worth mentioning are the incredible "Defying Gravity", the upbeat ensemble ditty "What Is This Feeling?", the melancholic "I'm Not That Girl", and the wickedly passionate "As Long As You're Mine".
The cast provides solid vocal performances and onstage presence with Erin Mackey as Glinda and Teal Wicks as Elphaba.
"Defying Gravity" is undoubtedly an audience favorite. It's mine, too. Aside from its high-flying vocal and staging requirements, it mimics our own struggles against social norms, gender biases, cultural constraints and personal foibles.
I did not enjoy the musical as I hoped I would, though. The culprit, I believe, is that I have been listening to the CD and following the libretto ever since the musical started lifting audiences to flights of musical fancy last year.
Rationale for doing so is it will let me thoroughly follow the story. You know how words sung can get lost in expression by the performer and comprehension by the spectator with all the things happening onstage.
But then, preconceived images of scenes have been ingrained in my mind for so long that events taking place onstage felt incongruous. Perhaps reading the novel instead would've left my imagination less tainted.
Still, I recommend watching the musical. It's neither groundbreaking nor run-of-the-mill, but it's worth a wickedly good while.
"Wicked: A New Musical" is playing at the Pantages Theater in Downtown L.A. until January 2009.