The end of a musical almost always gives me chills, but the standing ovation on Thursday’s opening night of Wicked at the Buell Theatre was one of those applaud-till-your-hands-hurt, teary-eyed kind of finales. Not because it was that emotionally jarring—we are, after all, talking about the fantastical land of munchkins and enchanted emerald metropolises. Wicked's thrill comes from being such a truly fun and relatable show.
I missed this Broadway sensation—which has won 35 major awards, including three Tonys and a Grammy—the first time it circled through Denver and broke box office records in 2009. So I was jazzed to finally take my seat and see this prequel to Dorothy’s adventures in Oz, the juicy story behind the Wicked Witch of the West (Mamie Parris) and her best friend-turned-arch nemesis, Glinda the Good (Alli Mauzey). The rest of the audience, young and old, was just as excited as I was; more than one pair of glittery ruby red slippers were pulled out of the closet for this.
Now that I understand why Wicked is such an audience favorite, the three reasons you should catch the Broadway tour, pronto:
1. It’s just relevant enough. Yes, the costumes are fantastic and the setting seems to be a land removed from time. But the dialogue carries just enough contemporary intonation to hit home. For example, Glinda the Good is reminiscent of Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods, and Elphaba—the given name to the Wicked Witch—has enough snarky comments about said blonde-ness to make the banter satisfyingly witty.
2. It’s familiar. Our collective familiarity with the Wizard of Oz is precisely why this production is so appealing. At key moments, it ties back to our cherished memories of the childhood classic: the tornado, the house, and the ruby red slippers; the Wizard’s larger-than-life façade; the yellow brick road; the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, and Scarecrow. All these moments and places and characters make cameos this time around, not in a way that repeats the Wizard of Oz, but in a way that enhances what we already know.
3. It resonates. The show has something for everyone, and the underlying themes hit home in an authentic way. Whether it’s schoolgirl angst about popularity, the overarching—and often blurred—juxtaposition of good and evil, the political implications of power and truth, or the simple idea of being misunderstood, Wicked is far more than just high-energy characters, glittery costumes, and catchy show tones. (Though it's all that as well.) Case in point: I left the theater alternately singing the closing song under my breath in a giddy chorus—while also contemplating whether I’ve been misinterpreting the idea of good versus evil for my entire life.
Watch it: Through May 20 (Tue–Sun 7:30 p.m., Sat–Sun 2 p.m.), the Buell Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets. For tickets ($50–$200), call 303-893-4100 or visit denvercenter.org.
Tip: Two-and-a-half hours before every Wicked performance, the box office will be holding a lottery for a limited number of $25 orchestra tickets. The stipulations: You have to be at the Buell Theatre in person to enter your name and win, and it’s cash only.
—Photo courtesy of Denver Center Attractions