While at Friday's press opening night for the Windy City return of "Wicked," I decided to bring a guest who had never previously seen the Broadway hit musical about the witches of "Oz."
In contrast to my planned "new perspective" audience encounter, seated just behind us, was one of my former newspaper editors. She has seen "Wicked" 10 times. As for my count? Friday marked my fifth time seeing green. This latest run of "Wicked," an eight-week visit through Dec. 21 at Chicago's Oriental Theatre, 24 West Randolph St., is also the musical's 10th anniversary.
For this 10-year national tour, it's Alison Luff as Elphaba, the scene-stealing stage green great and Jenn Gambatese countering with the goodness of Glinda. Luff has powerhouse pipes and a fantastic personality that shines bright for her witchy role. She has also met her match in Gambatese, who has star quality and rightly brings her own fresh qualities and trademarks to her good witch alter ego. She transforms her face into a caricaturization of squinting and grinning, much like a pretty cartoon likeness brought to life.
Stepping into the knee high boots of the dashing romantic lead, capable of melting the hearts of would-be witches, is actor Curt Hansen, who is by far the best Fiyero I've seen in any of the "Wicked" productions. In 2011, I was dazzled by his talents when he starred in the first national tour of "Next to Normal." He delivers a heartfelt performance, while also allowing his scene co-stars to equally shine. Singer and actor John Davidson is in fine form as The Wizard and "Guiding Light" soap actress Kim Zimmer is once again having a "wicked" fine time wrapped in plumage as tricky teacher Madame Morrible.
I was less impressed with some over-kill moments in Act 2 by Jaime Rosenstein and her characterization as Wicked Witch of the East Nessarose. This is usually a character role that slowly simmers and bubbles like a witch's brew before the true temperament of Elphaba's sickly sister.
Running two and a half hours with one intermission, "Wicked" offers sizzling signature show numbers that engage and entertain, like Glinda's "Popular," Elphaba's "Defying Gravity" and The Wizard's "Wonderful."
This "Wicked" is every broom-flying bit as entrancing as the day it first leapt from the stage a decade ago. This musical proves that witches never age.
Tickets start at $40 with a select number of premium seats also available for many performances. FYI: (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com or wickedthemusical.com. Groups of 20 or more call Broadway In Chicago Group Sales at (312) 977-1710.
NOTE: Broadway In Chicago is offering a "Wicked" day-of-performance drawing for a limited number of orchestra seats drawn on performance days inside Block Thirty Seven shopping center, located at 108 N State St., across from the Oriental Theatre. An additional pair of tickets for each performance will be given away, courtesy of Block Thirty Seven, in honor of the 10th anniversary of "Wicked." Throughout the run of the show on each performance day, people can pick up entry forms at the Block Thirty Seven information booth during business hours up until two hours prior to the performance. Entry forms are placed into the "Wicked" hat, one entry per person. Names will be drawn two hours before each performance for 20 orchestra seats at $25 each, cash only.