If you've been living under a spell for weeks, you should know that the intricately staged and wonderfully gusty touring production of Broadway's monster hit, Wicked, has blown into Indianapolis for a two-and-a-half-week engagement. Assuming that readers either know the show top to bottom or wish to be wowed for the first time, let it be said that, on Thursday night, a top-notch cast flew through two hours and 45 minutes of smart banter, brilliant timing, and pristine vocals. The charge was appropriately led by Elphaba herself.
Jennifer DiNoia inhabits that star-making role, which she capably performed on Broadway, and hits all the right notes (as a singer) and tones (as an actress). Her "No Good Deed" solo itself takes the song to another level to create a musical moment midway through Act II. Hayley Podschun's Glinda—the artist formerly known as Galinda—ratchets up the self-involved spunk in "Popular" to levels not witnessed since Megan Hilty took on the part in New York.
Of course these showcase roles make for mountains to climb from the start: Kristen Chenoweth (Glinda) and Idina Menzel (Elphaba) as predecessors will always be the outsized personalities and talents that performers are subsequently compared to, which must be daunting. Happily, Podschun and DiNoia take on this challenge with aplomb and verve.
They're not alone. Kathy Fitzgerald's Madame Morrible deploys a booming-voice approach to the proceedings and elevates her station in song, a welcome respite from some of role's more speak-sing actresses to date. And Indiana's own Emily Behny takes the big-as-you-make-it role of Nessarose, Elphaba's sister, and turns tragedy into a storm of surprise. The Act II dramatics add up to a relentless rush as the plot—sorcery and love triangles and scapegoats, oh my!—corkscrews through one twist after another.
It can only sound cliche to say, but DiNoia's "Defying Gravity" to end Act I is downright goosebump-inducing, with her clarion, shimmering voice partnering with the scene's spectacular visuals. And that is something, beyond the dialogue's delightful bluster and the phenomenal songs, that this show gets right: the staging, the sets, the costumes, the lighting—they're all bar none. It should be noted that a few Tony Award winners made this happen: Eugene Lee (set design), Susan Hilferty (costume design), and Kenneth Posner (sound design).
There is action, suspense, and romance, the latter thanks to heartthrob David Nathan Perlow as Fiyero, whose dashing looks and vocals outdo his ability to otherwise emote. There's buffoonery, courtesy of the hapless romantic Munchkin, Boq (Alex Wyse), and the some-kind-of-wonderful Wizard of Oz himself (Walker Jones), who underwhelms a bit, not that the part is exactly written to sparkle like an emerald. And there is comedy, delivered in spades by way of Podschun's Mean Girls–esque romps as they run up against DiNoia's straight-laced social greenhorn. Kids will find themselves bewitched, and parents and other adults can mine the show for its smart takedown of how we humans treat each other every day, plus all the glorious turns of phrase, rhymes, and verbal faux pas that lyrical wizard Stephen Schwartz (an Academy Award winner for The Prince of Egypt and Pocahontas) has to offer. This is fiendishly good fun.
Go for the songs, brimming with more heat and passion than a witch's cauldron, and for the sheer spectacle. Stay for the wordplay and the stark social commentary. That's the modus operandi of Wicked, and it's worked for a show now celebrating its 10th anniversary. You won't have to allow the spell it casts to wash over you. You will have no choice in the matter.
» MORE WICKED: See our by-the-numbers read on what it takes to go green.
» BONUS: We got Emily Behny, the Hoosier-native Nessarose, on the phone.
Wicked. Now through Dec. 1. Murat Theatre at Old National Centre, 502 N. New Jersey St., 317-231-0000. For ticket information, click here.