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Wicked

Feb 4, 2015

Review: 'Wicked' dazzles and tugs at the heartstrings

February 4, 2015

Paul Hyde, [email protected] 4:28 p.m. EST January 31, 2015

The national tour of "Wicked" has roared back into Greenville's Peace Center — and the production is pure magic.

Equal parts grand spectacle and intimate drama, the 2003 Broadway musical both dazzles and tugs at the heartstrings as it offers an alternative version of the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz."

Alyssa Fox makes a stunning debut in the national tour as Elphaba, the green Wicked Witch of the West, misunderstood and loathed by the people of Oz for the sin of being different. Fox, a former understudy and standby for Elphaba, is making her first full-time appearances in the role at the Peace Center.

Fox takes Elphaba's showstoppers like "Defying Gravity" and "No Good Deed" and makes them her own, delivering them with passion, powerful pipes and some fetching ornamentation. Yet it's also a nuanced portrayal, with Fox caressing a tearjerker like "I'm Not That Girl" with melting tenderness.

"Wicked," with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, centers on the relationship of Elphaba and Glinda the Good as the two unlikely friends struggle through personal differences and rivalry over the same love-interest, Fiyero.

The book by Winnie Holzman, loosely based on Gregory Maguire's novel, is a brilliant riff on "The Wizard of Oz," abounding with inside jokes for fans of the classic film.

The sets and costumes — brightly colored steampunk with an emphasis on emerald — never fail to impress and occasionally awe.

Epic in storyline and length (two hours and 45 minutes), "Wicked" touches on a number of issues — female self-determination, the unfairness of judging people by appearance, and the dangers of oppressive government.

But at its heart, the musical is about the poignant friendship of Elphaba and Glinda. It's no surprise that "Wicked" sold out almost every show when it first came to Greenville five years ago.

Carrie St. Louis, as Glinda, is marvelously bubbly and funny in her early scenes as a conceited young girl of privilege. Her song "Popular" is a comic tour de force.

Of the major characters, Glinda grows the most through the course of the show, and St. Louis is both commanding and sympathetic as the more mature Glinda, negotiating the character's high-flying music with a sparkling soprano.

What a treat to see entertainment legend John Davidson on the Peace Center stage as the Wizard, who is not the genial goofball of the "Oz" film but a far more sinister strongman. Davidson, the consummate pro, pours on the charisma, playing the Wizard as the cheeriest fascist imaginable. At age 73, Davidson is still fleet of foot in his soft shoe number "Wonderful."

Ashley Parker Angel, as Fiyero, is a smooth actor with a suave tenor. The rest of the cast is likewise superb. The big chorus numbers are terrific, thanks to the robust voices and tight singing of the ensemble under the direction of P. Jason Yarcho. The 14-piece pit orchestra, which includes nine local musicians, performs splendidly.

This thrilling production of "Wicked" continues through Feb. 15. For tickets, call the Peace Center at 864-467-3000 or see the website www.peacecenter.org.

For the latest in local arts news and reviews, follow Paul Hyde on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.