As I’ve discussed before, Wicked was in many ways the beginning of my theater obsession. I have seen the show ten times over the past ten years, including performances on Broadway, on tour in Boston while I was in college, on tour in my hometown, and now in LA. Considering that this show has been a part of my life for so long and I have seen it at some point in every city I have ever called home, it is not surprising that attending the performance I caught at the Pantages a few weekends ago felt like revisiting an old friend.
While I always enjoy the show no matter how many times I’ve seen it, my main motivation to catch the tour this time around was to see Emma Hunton as Elphaba. I first saw Ms. Hunton in Spring Awakening on Broadway, where she took over the role of Ilse when she was only 16 years old. In addition to seeing her in that show several times, I also saw her perform a small concert in New York City in 2010 and later play Natalie on the Next to Normal tour in 2011. Now, at age 23, she is the youngest woman ever to play Elphaba in an English-speaking production of Wicked. These facts alone make it obvious that Ms. Hunton is extraordinarily talented, and her Elphaba did not disappoint. Although there were points in the show where she appeared to be saving her voice, understandably so since it was the 8th performance of the week, she let loose for the big moments. The climax of Defying Gravity and the entirety of No Good Deed were the highlights. In addition to having a phenomenal voice, Ms. Hunton was a very awkwardly comical, endearing, youthful Elphaba. I do think her young age added something to her interpretation of the character. She is, in fact, closer in age to Elphaba’s actual presumed age than most actresses who play her, and I really believed her as a young woman struggling to find her place in the world.
Shanon Mari Mills, an understudy, was on for Glinda at the performance I attended, and, to quote the Wizard, I thought she was wonderful. She sang the challenging soprano parts beautifully and added a lot of her own personality, particularly in Popular. It’s interesting because at this point, 12 years into the show’s life, dozens and dozens of women have played Elphaba and Glinda since Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth created the roles. There are only so many things an actress can do in terms of reinventing the wheel and doing something different, which is why it’s so impressive that everyone I have seen play them has managed to leave their own little mark on the role. I always judge Glindas on their “Thank Goodness”. This song has always been my personal favorite moment for the character because it is her emotional turning point, and a good actress can use it to convey a lot. Ms. Mills did not disappoint me. She seemed so comfortable and confident in the role that it was hard to believe she was only an understudy.
Every time I see Wicked I am reminded of the many reasons why I love it. For starters, it features two incredible leading roles for women, which is still much more rare than it should be. While the show does feature a love triangle, the primary relationship is a friendship between two women. Also, it is difficult for me to think of an act one finale that is more of a showstopper than “Defying Gravity.” That moment is a knockout that truly never gets old, no matter how many times you’ve seen the show. I did notice this production had some sound issues that I’ve found to be typical at the Pantages. The acoustics are simply not the best, and as a result many of the ensemble numbers sounded smaller and less powerful than usual. It was still incredible to see how a show that has been running for so long, including several long stints in LA over the years, still draws a sold-out crowd. It’s rare to find a show that combines an easy to relate to story and characters, great music, and dazzling spectacle, and Wicked is the whole package.
This cast also features Nick Adams as Fiyero, Kim Zimmer as Madame Morrible, Tim Kazurinsky as the Wizard, Jenny Florkowski as Nessarose, and Etai Benson as Boq. Wicked runs at the Pantages through March 15th. There is a day of ticket lottery for $25 cash only tickets held 2 hours before every performance. For more information, as well as information on other productions of Wicked, visit www.wickedthemusical.com. Another great resource for often discounted re-sale tickets is http://www.vividseats.com/theatre/wicked-tickets.html.