"Wicked" runs at the Civic Theatre in downtown San Diego through Nov. 25. Photo by Joan Marcus
Wicked, one of the most popular musicals of recent memory, is back in San Diego, at the Civic Theatre, downtown. Though I’d seen it twice before, last night proved more enlightening and more satisfying than ever. Why?
For starters, I took my 14-year-old niece to the show. She’d never seen Wicked, and she was as excited as if Christmas had already come. Anytime a Broadway show captures the fancy and imagination of young audiences is in itself exciting and bodes well for the future livelihood of American theater as an art form.
Second, it occurred to me as I enjoyed this musical adaptation (by Winnie Holzman and Stephen Schwartz) of Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West” that Wicked is a story not only about the rushes to judgment we make as regards good and bad, but more important a celebration of female empowerment and of the sacred bond of sisterhood. These are critical comprehensions not only for the fractured time in which we reside in America, but for men and women, boys and girls alike.
As to the national touring company that’s in town through Nov. 25, it’s blessed with two outstanding actresses in the leads: Jackie Burns is a fierce, unflinching Elphaba whose passionate vocals elicited cheers after her signature numbers “I’m Not That Girl,” “No Good Deed” and, naturally, “Defying Gravity,” the best-known song in Wicked’s score. As the yang to Elphaba’s yin, Kara Lindsay’s Glinda beautifully balances her comic timing and physicality with a crystalline voice. The remainder of the sweeping cast is vibrant and exquisitely costumed, though none of the other characters in Wicked is as remotely important or compelling as its frontwomen. In fact, the shticky number given to the Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Jason Graee), “Wonderful,” still strikes an out-of-place note.
Tickets to Wicked may be difficult to come by (there is a lottery system offered during the run), but they’re worth defying gravity, or whatever obstacle, for.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.