Nov. 11 2016 01:26 PM

Political undertones of Oz musical even more potent today

FRIDAY, Nov. 11 — “Wicked” returned to the Wharton Center this week, and the blockbuster musical is as potent as ever. In fact, the musical’s political undertones are even more chilling today in the shadow of a Trump presidency — but more on that later.


The musical, based on the Gregory Maguire novel of the same name, tells the “untold story of the witches of Oz.” The play centers on the relationship between Glinda (Amanda Jane Cooper) and Elphaba (Jessica Vosk). Vosk ably tackles the role of a social outsider who has built up walls of sarcasm and disdain to protect herself from an unkind society. Cooper, as her bubbly counter-balance, combines Amy Sedaris-like awkwardness with the valley girl enthusiasm — and sense of entitlement — of Reese Witherspoon’s “Legally Blonde” protagonist.


The play flips the script on the Frank L. Baum classic. Elphaba, aka the Wicked Witch of the West, becomes a sympathetic figure, a misunderstood loner in a fight against an authoritarian regime. Glinda, aka Glinda the good, is obsessed with self-advancement, pushing others out of the way in the pursuit of wealth and influence.


Other standouts include Wendy Worthington, who steals several scenes as the flamboyantly vicious Madame Morrible, and Owosso native Kristen Martin, as the wheelchair-bound Nessarose, who shined even in her limited role. Nessarose is the musical’s most tragic character, never able to find the love she is seeking. Her scenes near the end of the musical with Elphaba are potent and heart wrenching.


Jeremy Woodard turns in a fine performance as Fiyero, the clueless hunk-turned-traitor hero, and Sam Seferian is heartbreaking as Boq, who, through misunderstandings and unfortunate circumstances, finds himself trapped in a loveless relationship with Nessarose.


The steampunk-inspired set uses subtle changes and well-executed lighting effects to turn essentially the same set into a classroom, a field, a bedroom and several other locations. Dance numbers were crisp, and costumes — from 1920s-style suits to ball gowns to creepy flying monkey skin suits — were well made and set the tone for the show.


But watching the musical just two days after the presidential election, it was hard not see parallels between the Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Donald Trump. “Wicked” re-imagines the wizard as a clever huckster who prefers flash and glitz to substance. He decorates his lavish tower with jewels and lights and paves the roads with gold. He rises to power on empty promises and silences his opponents through force.


“I only told them the lies they wanted to hear,” the Wizard sings.


“Sounds familiar,” scoffed a man seated in my row.


In “Wicked,” the kingdom is saved by Glinda, who discovers her conscience before it’s too late and drives the wizard out. A fine fairytale ending to be sure, but don’t expect any good witches in bubbles to bail us out of our current political turmoil.


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