Wicked isn’t the first traveling Broadway show to have an extended stay in Las Vegas, but it’s the first of its caliber to arrive at the city’s most talked-about new venue, providing a pitch-perfect launch to its inaugural full-length Broadway season.
It took two days, a dozen semi trucks and a hundred-plus-member crew to pull off the dazzling transformation of The Smith Center’s Reynolds Hall stage, and night two of the six-week production delivered on what Broadway does best: offering expertly woven stories, flawless voices and all the glitz and glamour Vegas generally saves for its casinos and showrooms.
Adapted from Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel, Wicked tells the pre-Dorothy story of Emerald City’s two most famous witches — one green, one blonde — forced out of happenstance to room together at Shiz University (a kind of Hogwarts Academy for Oz-ian sorcerers). What starts as mutual loathing of one another quickly softens into an enduring friendship in which both girls learn from the other, despite making diametrically opposed choices that will change the course of both their lives.
The play offers endless nods to L. Frank Baum’s children’s story, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, yet re-creates it in a way that may motivate you to want to rewatch its famous 1939 film adaptation.
At its core, Wicked explores the true meaning of friendship and challenges black-and-white notions of good versus evil by offering shades of … green. It also serves as a treatise against prejudice, discrimination and police states, while touting animal rights — much of which is handled in clever song lyrics by the talented cast, following a Steven Schwartz soundtrack that will raise the hairs on the necks of even the toughest critics.
Many of the play’s best moments require no orchestra, as the two women banter their way into the unlikeliest of friendships. Patti Murin’s Glinda is the expected crowd pleaser, playing up her good-natured perkiness at every step, even when she’s not acting particularly “good” (a relative term the play never stops questioning).
As Elphaba, MADtv alum Nicole Parker nails not only the high and low notes, especially with her show-stopper, “Defying Gravity,” but also the comedic sadness of her role. She is the dark, sarcastic loner with whom you shared a dorm floor in college and pitied, and the tragic hero whose battle to do “good” goes wrong at every turn.
The depth of some of the play’s themes can get easily lost in its light and airy atmosphere — which is part of its appeal, perhaps, to the legions of fanatics who wear the shirts, carry the tote bags and play the soundtrack in their car on their way to and from the theater. The Smith Center performance won’t disappoint that crowd, but you certainly don’t have to be a Broadway fanatic to enjoy the show.
Thu-Fri, Tue-Wed, 7:30 p.m., Sat-Sun, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., through Oct. 7; The Smith Center, 361 Symphony Park, www.thesmithcenter.com, $42-$186. Note: A pre-show lottery takes place two-and-a-half hours before each performance, where entrants have the chance to score limited $25 tickets (cash only) in the orchestra section