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WICKED Still Casts a Spell on Philly

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Photo: © Joan MarcusLong before Dorothy drops in, two other girls meet in the Land of Oz. One, born with emerald-green skin, is smart, fiery and misunderstood. The other is beautiful, ambitious and very popular. WICKED tells the story of their remarkable odyssey, and how these two unlikely friends grow to become the Wicked Witch of the West and Galinda the Good Witch. Catch the story of WICKED at the Academy of Music through January 24, 2010. 

There’s a secret of this juggernaut of a success. "WICKED works on so many levels and different people find different things in the show. The children may enjoy the characters and the story of how they became what they are. A 16 year-old might love the story of this green girl who becomes accepted and the popular girl who proves she is not perfect but becomes good. Young adults might get involved in the friendship between these two young women and the choice and sacrifices they make. Older adults might enjoy the visual and verbal jokes and flashbacks to the original filmed story as well as the satire of the campy yet serious side of how governments determine what is wicked or good." 

With a heart-on-the sleeve pop score by Stephen Schwartz and a clever book by Winnie Holzman, we are transformed back to Oz where we meet the pre-witches of Oz, Galinda (the good) and Elphaba (the green one), attending college somewhere between Emerald City and Munchkin Land. The show also answers important questions such as how did the Tin Man and Scarecrow wind up like that and why was the Lion a coward? 

Setting the stage of this Industrial Age of Oz, complete with Galinda's floating bubble and the heavy metal head of the Wizard are the distinctively different and delightfully costumed characters created by Susan Hilferty. 

This tour stop of the multi award winning show is still in top condition. However the leading cast members seem to lack some of the sparkle and magic we have come to enjoy with other actors in these powerhouse roles. 

Standing in for Marcie Dodd as Elphaba was Carrie Manolakos.  Granted she had the chops for the music but played the role with a rough exterior and reminded me of gymnast Mary Lou Retton, only green!  

Photo: © Joan MarcusHelene Yorke’s Galinda is silly in an almost forced, annoying way, never quite capturing the lovable, naturally dumb blonde image, though she too vocally could hold her own with the score. 

An added detraction from the performance was the fact that from my 10th row orchestra seats I was not able to understand all the words the two girls were singing. Either microphones were not up to par or both failed to execute their words clearly. I’m reasonably sure the upper balconies were not catching half of the words in their songs. 

The role of Fiyero, played by Colin Donnell, who looks a bit like America Idol’s Adam Lambert, never quite convinced me that he deserved the admiration of either of the ladies jousting for his affection. The role of Madame Morrible played by Broadway veteran Marilyn Caskey was a bit more convincing. However Don Amendolia's Wizard of Oz is serviceable at best. Though there were a few standout acting moments between the Galinda & Elphaba, the most impressive acting was that of Kristine Reese who plays Nessarose Elphaba’s crippled sister. The strength of this touring troupe lies in the strong ensemble, the choreography and those Tony winning great costumes and sets. 

WICKED continues to break box office records in every city that it has played, including Toronto, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Philadelphia and Boston to name a few. 

Called "one of the most successful shows in Broadway history" by the New York Times and "a phenomenon that keeps growing" by the Los Angeles Times, WICKED continues to thrill audiences around the world. There are currently eight productions of WICKED worldwide, including two North American tours, a, Broadway production, San Francisco production, London production, a Japanese-language production, a German-language production and Australian production. A Dutch-language production of WICKED will open in 2011. 

Wicked offers a giddy, campy, fun theatrical spectacle with a surprising twist of an ending that will have audiences revisiting the Land of Oz and The Emerald City for a long time. 

For more information on WICKED visit www.wickedthemusical.com. For tickets and information on future productions at the Academy of Music visit www.kimmelcenter.org or call 215.731.3333.

First Photo: Photo of Helene Yorke and Marcie Dodd Photo: © Joan Marcus

Second Photo: Photo of Marcie Dodd © Joan Marcus