"Wicked" swept into Century II with all the force of a spangled and bejeweled tornado Wednesday, taking the audience on a musical ride through familiar territory to Kansans —"The Wizard of Oz" — but in a surprising, provocative way.
The blockbuster Broadway musical is a look at Oz through the eyes of two young witches, one supposedly wicked and the other supposedly good, before Dorothy Gale drops in. And this production, the largest touring show ever to come to Wichita, is a wonder of sight and sound with scenery gliding noiselessly across the stage topped by a huge dragon head with flapping wings and glowing red eyes.
The style is spectacular, and the look is lush. Susan Hilferty's colorful and detailed costumes seem like a skewed "Alice in Wonderland" version of the elegant Edwardian era. Eugene Lee's filigreed clockwork set seems like a view of the world from inside London's Big Ben — but with a clock face that goes to XVIII.
Lighting by Kenneth Posner splashes brilliant, often contrasting color over everything, from the green lights of Emerald City to skies that rush from blue to yellow to red.
Getting past the eye-popping surface, the music by Stephen Schwartz ("Godspell," "Pippin") ranges from delightfully silly ("Popular") to hauntingly romantic ("As Long As You're Mine") to absolutely riveting ("Defying Gravity").
It tells of the unlikely friendship between a self-absorbed fashionista named Galinda, who will mature into Glinda the Good, and a smart, talented, independent loner named Elphaba (a play on L. Frank Baum's initials), who will be maligned as the Wicked Witch of the West when she upsets the Establishment.
The dialogue by Winnie Holzman (TV's "My So-Called Life") is clever, snappy and laced with wonderfully telling malapropisms — like "scandalicious" and "braverism" — that poke fun at pomposity and tabloidism. Show creators also subtly throw in quick homages to other Broadway shows, from "My Fair Lady" to "'Evita," that provide an extra, knowing chuckle.
Helene Yorke, who was in Music Theatre of Wichita's 2005 ensemble, is making a triumphant homecoming of sorts as Galinda/Glinda. Yorke plays the future good witch as the epitome of perky blondeness, and opening night she did so with such delicious abandon that she kept the audience roaring with laughter.
Her "Popular" — about trying to make over the dowdy Elphaba — is a show-stopping highlight. But Yorke (best remembered here as Val in "A Chorus Line") pairs that comic sensibility with a beautiful voice that can soar into operatic ranges for the gravitas of "No One Mourns the Wicked."
Opposite her is Marcie Dodd as the green-faced Elphaba, who demonstrates her range from enthusiastically ecstatic ("The Wizard and I") to poignantly romantic ("I'm Not That Girl") to thunderously defiant ("Defying Gravity).
Dodd, who was on Broadway with "Wicked" before this tour, is superb in her voice shadings, from being light and crystal clear in quiet moments to occasionally belting strong enough to pin you back in your seats. Her "Defying Gravity" is heart-pounding, breathtaking and indelible.
Colin Donnell is in good voice ("Dancing Through Life") as the handsome slacker prince Fiyero who sparks a romantic battle between Galinda and Elphaba, although he tends to lose a little too much cool when love strikes.
Zach Hanna gives a likable, overeager puppy quality to Boq, a nerdy Munchkin who idolizes Galinda. And veteran TV and film star Tom McGowan gives the role of the Wizard a comfortably avuncular presence and sound ("Wonderful"), while Broadway veteran Marilyn Caskey is formidably funny as the bustling magic professor Madame Morrible.
If you go
What: The only Kansas stop of the touring Broadway show, kicking off Theater League's 2009-2010 season
Where: Century II Concert Hall
When: Shows daily through Nov. 8
How much: Tickets: $57-$125, available through WichitaTix at 316-219-4849 or www.wichitatix.com.
For more information, go to www.theaterleague.com.