Thanks to the generosity of some friends who had tickets they couldn’t use, we traveled to Cleveland’s Playhouse Square last night to see the popular musical, Wicked, which first opened on Broadway more than a decade ago. This show gives the back story on the Wizard of Oz and offers some insight on why the Wicked Witch was the way she was, while taking a few liberties with the story, I might add.
I had seen Wicked a couple of times before, once in London in 2007 and once in San Francisco in 2010. Husband Jim had never seen the show, though, so I was excited to have him experience it.
We were happy that we made it to Cleveland (90-minutes to the west), because there was a winter-weather advisory, and I had woken up that morning feeling a bit under the weather. But other than some light snowfall along I-90 (you should see it today) and one moment of my restrained coughing during a particularly rousing portion of the show, we made out well, and I’m so glad we went.
Getting to the area more than an hour early, we stopped into Otto Moser’s near Playhouse Square for a quick adult beverage and bite to eat. Jim had a Great Lakes Brewing Company Dortmunder and I had a Miller Lite, because it does not make sense to waste fancy beers on me. We shared some roasted red-pepper hummus, pita chips, and veggies, and to make sure we weren’t being too healthy, we threw in some fresh-cut French fries. Today, looking at reviews of Otto Moser’s, I see that they are mixed, and some of that has to do with the staff. I found both the staff and the food to be enjoyable. When I asked about the old photographs on the walls, the response was that the server didn’t really know, but she thought they might be of famous people who visited the restaurant back in the day. You would think that all the employees would know why there are old pictures plastered on every inch of the walls. Well, if I owned the restaurant, they would. Long story short, we liked the place and wouldn’t mind going back.
Playhouse Square, where the musical is playing, is a historic complex of four theatres constructed in the 1920s, which had fallen into decline with the advent of television, like many theatres across the nation. The world’s largest theatre restoration project, Playhouse Square is also the country’s largest performing-arts center outside of New York City.
This particular show, all around, is a marvel to me. The sets, the costuming, and the talent are breathtaking. As casts go, Wicked doesn’t have a particularly large one, but it does a lot with a modest amount of manpower. It is apparent that every step and every movement has been choreographed to the last detail. The chorus has multiple costume and role changes, and it’s interesting to keep track of them as the show progresses.
One thing I noticed as I sat in the theatre was that the audience was fully engaged and expressed its delight from the opening curtain. Jennifer DiNoia, who plays Elphaba (Wicked Witch of the West), was a particular favorite, and there’s a good reason why. Her vocals are strong and stellar. From the moment she completed her first number, the audience responded with vigor. I’d wonder if she had family in the house, but she’s from Connecticut.
Hayley Podschun, amused the audience with her portrayal of Glinda, the narcissistic, unaware, blonde classmate of Elphaba’s. In addition to the prescribed boundaries of her role, she also added her own flavor, as it seems both Glinda’s I saw prior to this had done. All of the other members of the cast put forth strong performances, and there wasn’t a weak one in the bunch.
Even though I saw this show a couple of times before, I think I got the most out of it this time. I do have a tendency to nod off in dark theatres, so it’s possible I just stayed awake more this time. Or perhaps the first couple of times, I was fixated more on the melodies and less on the lyrics and storyline. This time, everything seemed to make more sense, but I did notice a couple of departures from L. Frank Baum’s original The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, namely how the scarecrow, tin man, and lion got to be the way they were. The book goes into their backstories quite a bit, but if you’re not a stickler for details, you’ll enjoy Wicked’s portrayal of their journeys.
Now, I’m not one for going along with the crowd, especially when it comes to standing ovations. I usually drag myself to my feet and do my part, but I have rarely felt an urge to initiate a standing ovation myself. During the curtain call at this Wicked performance, I was surprised that the audience members stayed in their seats as the munchkins and monkeys took their bows. I actually got worried, because I couldn’t believe that we would not give a standing ovation to one of the best performances I think I’ve ever seen. But when Elphaba and Glinda appeared together, everyone sprang to their feet, and so did I, quite willingly and enthusiastically, I might add.
Wicked has been playing at the State Theatre at Cleveland’s Playhouse Square all month, and its last performance will be on January 5, so if you want catch it in Cleveland, you’d better hurry. Don’t worry, if you can’t, though. The production is headed to Buffalo and Pittsburgh and nearly 20 other cities in 2014.