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Now onstage until July 21 at Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre

Credit: Joan Marcus. L-R: Lauren Samuels and Austen Danielle Bohmer

Joe Szekeres

‘The Wizard of Oz says: “You have to give the people what they want.” And lo and behold, Mirvish did just that with the return of ‘Wicked.’ And David saw that it was good. But the question remains – is ‘Wicked’ still good?”

What is it about ‘Wicked’ that still draws a crowd after so many years?

This touring musical opening night production is based on Gregory Maguire’s book. ‘Wicked’ details life before Dorothy Gale arrives in Oz for those who have never read the novel. Near the end, the story also deals with what occurs after young Dorothy’s arrival. Clever connections are made between the 1939 film and Maguire’s tale.

The two central characters, the oddly green Elphaba (Lauren Samuels) and the perky blonde bubbly Galinda (Austen Danielle Bohmer), who’s later known as Glinda, become unlikely roommates at Shiz University. Soon, Elphaba begins to discover an evil plot in Oz. Many of the creatures are losing their ability to speak and are imprisoned for no more than the fact they are animals.

When an encaged lion cub is brought to the school, Elphaba and student Fiyero (Xavier McKinnon) release it into the wild. Elphaba then travels with Glinda (the new best friend) to see the Wizard of Oz (Blake Hammond) and asks for help releasing all the animals back into the wild. When the girls arrive in Oz, they discover some apparent news about the Wizard that is initially shocking, especially regarding instructor Doctor Dillamond (Kingsley Leggs.) This news threatens to split the friendship between Elphaba and Glinda where the two of them make decisions that may affect their future friendship and what might or is to come.

Joe Mantello’s direction remains magically on point. Evan Roider’s direction of Stephen Schwartz’s music and lyrics still soars to the heights of the theatre. Wayne Cilento’s musical staging is crisp and sharp. The sound balance between the singers and the orchestra remains suitable for the most part. There were moments when I couldn’t hear the chorus singing, but I knew the lyrics.

The visual look of this spectacle touring production doesn’t appear to have been tarnished by its various stops across the nation. Eugene Lee’s stunning set design continues to remain eye-popping at the first look. I’ve always liked the mechanical flying dragon on top of the stage, which moves ferociously at specific points. Now that technology has advanced since ‘Wicked’ first opened, might that dragon be able to do other things?

Susan Hilferty’s costume designs are still eye-pleasing in the various shapes, colours, hues and tones. Kenneth Posner’s lighting design still evokes the idea that we have entered a magical world so different from where the audience finds itself in the house. There are still some terrific vocal numbers – ‘Defying Gravity’ at the end of the first act still manages to take my breath away.

How many of us old-timers remember the yearly televised showing of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ when there were only three major channels? I remember the commercial announcements plus the TV GUIDE (Wow, I am old) with print advertisements.

‘Wicked’ appears to follow along that same line with its periodic returns to the theatre.

Is that a good thing?

I think so.

In 2018, I wrote about the show's colourful window dressing of spectacle as a distraction and the production's seeming rite of passage for preteen and teenage girls.

Fast forward another six years with life events occurring for all of us.

This touring production has more going for it than I had written about in 2018. Far more.

For one, ‘Wicked’’s message of tenacity and never giving up in any world that sometimes appears against us is essential for young people to hear. Let’s not forget that we want young people to attend the theatre. They are the ones we entrust to keep the theatre torch fire burning.

Now, to return to the original question: Is ‘Wicked’ still good, and why is it still a crowd-pleaser?

It’s still a good show. It’s still a crowd-pleaser because people like David Mirvish listen to his audience.

It’s also in the casting.

Samuels and Bohmer are terrific performers who embody Elphaba and Galinda's emotional impact with zeal. There are some specific moments where they pay quiet tribute to other musical shows and individuals. At the top of Act 2, during the opening number reprise of ‘Noe One Mourns the Wicked,’ Bohmer respectfully pays attention to the first lady of Argentina from Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice’s ‘Evita.’ Samuels ideally times some of her comedic bits, especially in applying the word ‘blonde’ to describe Galinda aptly. As previously stated, there are some beautiful duets between these two ladies in ‘Defying Gravity,’ ‘What is this Feeling?’ and ‘For Good.’

Erica Ito’s wheelchair-bound Nessarose (Elphaba’s younger sister) sweetly toys at the heartstrings until we learn what happens to her in the second act regarding her relationship with the naïve Boq (Alex Vinh). Aymee Garcia’s Madame Morrible, Shiz University’s headmistress, remains comically devilish. Xavier McKinnon is a dashing Fiyero. I kept wondering whose heart he would break first – Elphaba or Glinda. Kingsley Leggs’ Doctor Dillamond is a no-nonsense teacher who just gets what Elphaba is all about and who she is. The moment when Samuels and Leggs finally meet again after a long absence again hits at the heartstrings.

Another Thought: Writing this review allowed me to revisit the 2018 article to see if I had any changes of heart about ‘Wicked.’

I have.

I had written it might take a few times to see a show and understand its emotional impact.

I’m beginning to understand more how ‘Wicked’ does affect the heart.

Perhaps another visit in the future might solidify that reality.

Running time: approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes with one interval/intermission.

WICKED runs until July 21 at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King Street West. For tickets: or call 1-800-461-3333.

David Mirvish Presents the Marc Platt, Universal Stage Productions, The Araca Group, Jon B. Platt and David Stone of

WICKED Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz; Book by Winnie Holzman.
Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire.
Directed by Joe Mantello
Musical Staging by Wayne Cilento
Music Director: Evan Roider

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