The musical Wicked—a revisionist twist on The Wizard of Oz—has returned to San Antonio, and it's in good shape. Unlike the non-Equity production of Legally Blonde that blew through SA in January (with some scenes played against a backdrop as desolate as Waiting for Godot), Wicked both looks and sounds expensive. (And with some orchestra tickets going for nearly $150, it's expensive for the audience as well. Holy shit.) Though I had already seen Wicked in Chicago, I was still surprised by the bustle and brilliance of Eugene Lee's spectacular set: a darkly whimsical take on both the fantasy world of Oz and the industrial age that it reflects. (The entrance to the Emerald City, in particular, is a stunner. Why can't Austin look like that?) Susan Hilferty's costumes are likewise sumptuous, if perhaps a bit over-the-top. The performances are solid: after two years with the ensemble, Anne Brummel takes on the iconic role of "wicked" witch Elpheba, an understandably awkward teenager: after all, it ain't easy being green. She's well paired with Natalie Daradich's pop-princess Glinda, Elpheba's lifelong frenemy and rival at a school of magic. Tom McGowan—a Tony nominee for La Bête, of all things—nearly steals the second act with his soft-shoe "Wonderful," while understudy Billy Harrigan Tighe stepped in for David Nathan Perlow as hunky love interest Fiyero (Tighe was just fine). The flying monkeys continue to freak me out.
Whether by serendipity or design, the musical holds obvious appeal for two of the most enthusiastic consumers of American popular culture: high school girls and gay men. (As far as I could tell, the rest of the audience was there by cosmic accident.) Stephen Schwartz's popular score—I resist the urge to print "pop-u-u-lar" score—famously lost a Tony Awards battle with Avenue Q (which also walked away with 2004's award for Best Book and Best Musical). But it's still a catchy confection that's only occasionally at odds with the musical's darker subtexts, including the rise of fascism in Europe, and the silencing of minorities of every stripe. When, however, Wicked aims to blow the roof off the Majestic—such as in the act one closer "Defying Gravity"—it’s a sinfully and even (I stoop to the pun) wickedly entertaining evening at the theater.
--Thomas "Ruby Red Slippers" Jenkins, Current Theater critic