Currently playing at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, Wicked never stops moving. From the beginning of the show, when Glinda announces the death of the Wicked Witch of the West, to the moment the witch Elphaba flies her broom through the brilliant glow of crossed spotlights, to the behind-curtains finale when a braided silhouette splashes a bucket onto the shadow of the doomed witch, Wicked takes you on a wild ride through an Oz that’s backward to everything you ever learned.
Based on the novel Wicked by Gregory Maguire, Wicked retells the story of the Wizard of Oz from the viewpoint of the Wicked Witch of the West. We learn how Elphaba grows up a green-skinned misfit in her own home, loved only by her wheelchair-bound sister; how she longs to meet and work with the Wizard of Oz; how she’s shunned at school until a series of miscommunications starts her lifelong friendship with the future Glinda the Good; and how her disillusionment upon finally meeting the wizard starts their mutual enmity.
The musical integrates hallmark features from the Wizard of Oz movie: a gag gift from Glinda becomes Elphaba’s trademark pointy hat; the wizard invites Elphaba to bespell his captive monkeys and give them wings; and Elphaba enchants her flying broom to escape the Emerald City. Though the story’s exciting, the most meaningful scenes show Elphaba’s inner self. We sympathize with the outcast Elphaba who enters the school dance, only to have the dancers freeze and stare; or who huddles under a bridge singing “I’m Not That Girl,” as the boy she loves crosses above with Glinda on his arm.
Elphaba and Glinda work very well together. Dee Roscioli, who plays Elphaba, makes a perfect match for the movie witch, down to her long, thin face. Patti Murin, as the ditsy, beautiful Glinda, is an excellent foil for Elphaba’s sober intensity. They’re especially funny in “Popular”: Glinda, eager to give the studious Elphaba a makeover, bounces around as if on springs, literally leaping from one idea to the next as she sings, while Elphaba reluctantly allows Glinda to loosen her braid, stick in a hair bow, and dab startlingly crimson lipstick onto her green face.
But Elphaba and Glinda are only part of this beautiful, bombastic production. The supporting cast keeps up the energy as they join Glinda and her boyfriend Fiyero in “Dancing Through Life,” pedal around the city of Oz, or scale the walls as shrieking monkeys. They’re so beautifully dressed you wonder where they get their pitchforks for the obligatory mob scene -- surely these elegant Ozians, with their bustled skirts and stovepipe hats, have never shoveled stables.
There’s a song for every mood. I was especially glad to watch “Popular” with my daughter, and hope it someday helps her survive high school society. Composer Stephen Schwartz, a master wordsmith, easily combines rhymes like “Socrates” and “mediocrities,”and creates truisms like “the most celebrated are the rehabilitated.”
Schwartz deliberately avoids black-and-white heroes and villains, layering his plot and characters in shades of grey. After the show, my nine-year-old daughter complained “I don’t know who to vouch for!” The play is less ambiguous about the problems of corruption in government in the land of Oz. Cynical audience members might see parallels in government actions of the past decade, while parents could use some of these issues to jump-start discussions or home-school essays.
Though Wicked isn’t really a children’s show, older kids will enjoy it. Every girl I saw in the audience had a smile on her face, and the teenage boy behind me liked the show as much as his sisters did. There’s some kissing on stage, but nothing racy. If you take your kids, you might want to show them the original movie first, so that they can laugh along with the audience when Elphaba quips “There’s no place like home,” or when Glinda calls Dorothy’s dog “Dodo.”
A final tip: During intermission, seek out the restroom on the third floor: the line will be shorter, and hiking your children up all those stairs might shake out some wiggles.
If you go ...
Where: Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St. Seattle.
When: Wicked plays through Saturday, Nov. 17.
Tickets: $40-$160; buy online at stgpresents.com
Loralee Leavitt enjoys having adventures with her family. She is the creator of candyexperiments.com, and her book Candy Experiments will be released in January.