Theater composers have a couple of reliable tricks to fall back on if the music at hand is not destined for the Show Tune Hall of Fame. One is to simply make it loud, so the actors can belt it out for all its worth, because that’s often enough to convince ticket-buyers that they’re getting their money’s worth. The other is to make sure even relatively quiet songs wrap up with the Big Finish, because blaring crescendos strongly suggest that the crescendos may actually be deserved. Those tricks are in evidence throughout “Wicked,” the hit Broadway show that explains how the Good Witch became good and the Wicked Witch became bad before the events of “The Wizard of Oz.” Composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz’s score drones and deafens in equal measure with a couple of notable exceptions –- the show-stopping “Popular” and the affecting “I’m Not That Girl.” These songs, which you can actually remember after the show, match the wit of Winnie Holzman’s book. Based on a novel by Gregory Maguire, Holzman’s script balances humor and poignancy and creates a plausible, textured environment for the world of Oz. The narrative gets complicated and ultimately the show seems too long, but there’s much fun to be had as the origins of the ruby slippers, the flying monkeys, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion are explained. The road company that set up show at the Music Hall this week executes the material flawlessly, magnifying the show’s best qualities and gamely forging ahead when the music fails them. The show-stealing role is the vain and supercilious Glinda, the future good witch, and Helene Yorke plays it for all its worth. It’s one of the great comic characters and it seems to fit Yorke like a glove. Her timing is impeccable. Marcie Dodd is equally appealing in a quieter way as the green-skinned Elphaba, a character that goes through more than one grueling transition during the course of the show. Dodd gives it the appropriate dramatic weight but knows when to keep it light. She and Yorke play off each other extremely well. Handsome Colin Donnell gives us a nicely understated performance as Fiyero, the future Scarecrow who falls in love with Elphaba. Tom McGowan makes a convincing flim-flam man as the Wizard. Solid work is registered by Kristine Reese as Nessarose and Ted Ely as Boq. As Madame Morrible, Marilyn Caskey seems unnecessarily shrill and a bit over the top, even by this show’s standards. Don Richard, an actor who once earned his living on the stages of the American Heartland, the Unicorn and Starlight, appears as Elphaba’s father and fills a number of other ensemble roles. Richard, a bona fide Broadway veteran, is a versatile supporting actor and executes his tasks with admirable professionalism. Director Joe Mantello may qualify as a genius because no matter the style of the show or the strength of the material, he always seems to create hits. With “Wicked” he hit the biggest jackpot of all.
“Wicked” runs through Dec. 6 at the Music Hall. Call 800-982-2787 or go to www.ticketmaster.com. To reach Robert Trussell, call 816-234-4765 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.