It’s a 14-year-old musical that’s toured through the area before. Its Broadway run garnered Tony Awards for sets, costumes and for one actress, but lost for best book and score. The Tony for Best Musical that year went to “Avenue Q.”
Fast forward, and the return of “Wicked” to the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa is causing a sensation. The tour is staying in Tampa for four weeks instead of the usual one, and many shows are nearly sold out. On Thursday night, which is not an optimal evening for most theater-goers, the 2,600-seat Morsani Hall was packed. A parking lot a block-and-a-half away was charging $20, double its usual rate and almost as much as the cheapest tickets to the show. Five minutes before curtain, cars were lined up around the corner to get to the parking valets and traffic outside the center was a mess.
“What can I say?” a Straz Center staffer commented about the chaos. “It’s ‘Wicked.’ ”
The musical that proffers an alternate explanation to what really happened in Oz around the time that Dorothy and Toto flew in from Kansas has grown from a hit into a cultural phenomenon.
The show pretty much lives up to the hype. The crowd at Thursday evening’s performance gave enthusiastic ovations to several of the show’s songs, and rewarded the production and the cast with a roar of cheers at the end.
The story, which comes from a 1995 novel, has Glinda (originally named Galinda) and the Wicked Witch of the West (whose name here is Elphaba), starting out as reluctant roommates in school. Glinda is beautiful but vacuous. Elphaba is kind but has been ostracized her entire life because of her green skin; even her father has abandoned her. She comes to the school only to take care of her sister Nessarose, who needs a wheelchair to get around, but she and Glinda end up becoming devoted friends.
The show pretty much lives up to the hype. The crowd at Wednesday evening’s performance gave enthusiastic ovations to several of the show’s songs ovation, and the rewarded the production and the cast with a roar of cheers at the end.
The show is almost absurdly plot-heavy — there are multiple interwoven love triangles, an animal rights subplot, political developments, magical spells that go awry, and stories of betrayal, prejudice, misunderstanding and redemptive friendship, all in addition to the skeleton of the plot of the familiar “Wizard of Oz” film — and it’s sometimes hard to follow.
The excellent pit orchestra occasionally drowns out the the singers, which makes it even more difficult to keep up with the intricacies of the story.
But it’s all so much fun that it doesn’t really matter.
The scenery by Eugene Lee, from the steampunk sets of outer Oz to the gorgeous green of the Emerald City, and the costumes by Susan Hifferty, inspired as much by Lewis Carroll as by L. Frank Baum, are as impressive as any you’ll ever see in a Broadway production, and make a show in themselves.
The leads in this touring production are Jessica Vosk as Elphaba and Amanda Jane Cooper as Glinda. They’re both wonderful, and although Cooper somewhat annoyingly channels Kristin Chenoweth (who originated the role on Broadway) in the early going, she comes into her own and delivers some moving moments later in the show when her character becomes more substantial.
The scenery by Eugene Lee, from the steampunk sets of outer Oz to the gorgeous green of the Emerald City, and the costumes Susan Hifferty, inspired as much by Lewis Carroll as by L. Frank Baum, are as impressive as any you’ll ever see in a Broadway production, and make a show in themselves.
The audience’s sympathies remain with Elphaba from start to finish, and Winnie Holzman, who wrote the book for the musical, has created a believable witch who has been irrevocably damaged by her adolescence. (Holzman created the cult favorite TV show “My So-Called Life,” which showed her sharp eye for the teenage experience.)
Details: Through Feb. 26, Morsani Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. 7:30 p.m. Sunday. 2 p.m. matinee Thursday, Feb. 2. $25-$278.50 plus service. 813-229-7827, strazcenter.org.