You might think you know the full story of The Wizard of Oz, but if you have not yet seen Wicked (playing now at the Kennedy Center through January 22, 2023), it’s time to dust off your ruby slippers.
The show takes the audience back to a time before the Wicked Witch was, well, exactly that—to a time when young Elphaba (the wonderful Lisa Deguzman) struggles with learning to control her growing sorcery powers while she’s shunned by her boarding school classmates simply for being born green-skinned. When her spunky roommate, Glinda (normally played by Jennafer Newberry, but understudied the night of this review by the brilliant Jackie Raye) takes her under her wing, Elphaba’s social standing seems on the brink of change—or would be if it weren’t for her nagging feeling that not all is right in the land of Oz, and that she may be the only one willing and able to set things right.
From the moment this show begins, it’s clear that the production value alone makes a trip to the Kennedy Center well worth it. The ominous Time Dragon Clock hangs above the stage, red eyes seemingly watching your every movement. A distressed robotic lion cub later clamors from his cage—spurring Elphaba and too-cool-for-school Fiyero (Jordan Litz) to action. Flying monkeys lurk around every corner. And while many are likely familiar with the smash hit song, “Defying Gravity,” there’s just something about seeing Elphaba belt it out while hovering above the audience with her broomstick. While Guzman’s performance throughout the show is fabulous, it was clear she was holding some of her energy in reserve for this song at the end of the first act. You’ll be glad she did.
Other standout numbers in this show include “Popular” (during which an over-eager Glinda helps a reluctant Elphaba see her true beauty), and “For Good” (in which the two best friends confront the choices they’ve made and the value of friendship). Raye and Deguzman’s harmonies in the latter were beautiful, and tearful sniffles abounded from the appreciative audience. The ensemble of this show has a difficult task, as so many of the big numbers are inherently dark and full of witch hunting (“No One Mourns the Wicked,” for instance), but they execute them with skill, and spots of brightness like “Dancing Through Life” and “One Short Day” provide some much needed levity, as well as some dance breaks.)
Although this show takes place in a fictional world, the themes of friendship, justice, our treatment of animals, and speaking truth to power even at great personal cost have perhaps never been more relevant. That makes for the kind of uncomfortable moments in this show that make good and meaningful art. Of course, it’s up to each individual whether to engage with them or go on “Dancing Through Life” as young Fiero urges his fellow students to do before Elphaba opens his eyes.
FINAL GRADE: A
Wicked is now running at the Opera House at the Kennedy Center through January 22, 2023. Run time is 2 hours & 50 minutes with one intermission.
A limited number of $59 Rush tickets will be available for every performance, except performances between 12/26 and 12/31, at the Kennedy Center Box Office beginning at noon for matinee performances and 5:00pm for evening performances. Tickets are subject to availability and have no guaranteed location.
2 tickets max per person. Available to purchase in person only. Void if resold. Rush tickets not available for performances between 12/26 and 12/31.