There are very few musicals I love as much as Wicked. The show took time to grow on me but what ultimately won me over was Kristin Chenoweth’s winning, brilliant performance of Glenda which was so energetic, manic and hilarious that you couldn’t resist her. If you’re reading this, you don’t need me to tell you how Wicked made Idina Menzel and Kristin Broadway superstars. But you’re probably wondering: Does the touring version currently parked at the Orpheum in Memphis hold up just as well?
The answer is an emphatic hell yes. It actually went beyond my expectations. This version of Wicked is directed by Joe Mantello and it has captured so much of the magic from the original. Wicked, for those uninitiated, tells the story of Elphaba, who you probably know as the Wicked Witch of the West. Only Wicked asks that you discard what you think you know about Elphaba and learn a different side to her story. Elphaba actually wasn’t all that bad. In fact, Elphaba was actually just really, really misunderstood. She loved animals! She was an academic and an activist in the making! Glenda is actually the witch you should be wary of. America’s Sweethearts always are.
Of course, Wicked wants this story to be about sisterhood. And in some ways it is. But Wicked is also about misconceptions – it asks us to think about the people we mock or exclude and encourages us to listen to them. Maybe we’re not that different. Glenda has to learn how to be less selfish and self-absorbed, while Elphaba has to learn how to let people in and be more vulnerable. Both girls deserve a closer look at their complexities. There is no clear cut good witch/ bad witch in Wicked. Along the way audiences are treated to some spectacular music, too. An obvious stand out is “Defying Gravity” which has the most spectacular light show you’ll see in Memphis in 2018. Also noteworthy is “Popular” which Ginna Claire Mason deliciously performs. At times Mason is such a dead ringer for Chenoweth that it’s as if she’s studied her for hours on end to perfect every syllable. She knows what you came for and she’s here to deliver it. Mary Kate Morrissey’s Elphaba is slightly more awkward than Menzel’s and she goes to great lengths to make Elphaba her own. Morrissey’s Elphaba is also pretty beautiful and fierce in her own green way. In a post-Gaga Born This Way world, Elphaba actually doesn’t even seem that strange.
There are still problems with Wicked (an unnecessary and thankless munchkin character that deserves to be written out, plus Glenda’s sudden forgiveness arc) but that’s no fault of the touring company. The stage production is one of the best I’ve seen all season and the costumes designed by Susan Hilferty are impeccable. Also worth noting is that this stop welcomes nine local musicians who will be playing in all performances in Memphis. Wicked is undoubtably one of the best shows you’ll see this year – or ever?? If I’m being honest – so make plans to go see this while it’s in town. You will not regret it. And you’ll learn how to be popu-larr.
If you want a shot at winning $25 tickets, arrive at the Orpheum 2.5 hours before showtime and enter your name in a lottery. Winners will be drawn 2 hours to curtain and winners must pay in cash. If you want to purchase your tickets the old fashion way…. Tickets can be purchased on the Orpheum’s website.