Lights go black. Sounds of horns fill the theatre. Winged monkeys climb down from ropes.
The mechanical dragon’s glowing red eyes greet the audience from its perch above the stage, which is camouflaged by a grid work of gears and clockwork welded together as a frame. A map of Oz serves as the grand drape; the glowing Emerald City sparkling green from the map’s center.
Written as a prequel to L. Frank Baum’s novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” “Wicked,” the musical based on Gregory Maguire’s book, opened at the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts on Feb. 3 as part of its cross-country tour.
And it didn’t shy from spending its $14-million investment – a profit it made only 14 months after opening in Oct. 2003. It’s an accomplishment that usually takes two to three years, according to wickedthemusical.com.
The musical begins after Dorothy leaves Oz. Elphaba (Donna Vivino), the Wicked Witch of the West, is dead and Oz is celebrating. As she descends from the rafters in a silver bubble, Glinda the Good Witch of the North (Chandra Lee Schwartz) leads the joyous crowd of munchkins and Ozians.
But when Glinda – Oz’s only beacon of truth and goodness – announces that she once knew the green witch, Oz is turned upside down.
Trying to clear her name, Glinda tells the story of how she first met Elphaba at a school of magic called Shiz.
Miscommunication at Shiz forced Glinda, then known as Galinda, and Elphaba to room together and form a strong, mutual loathing.
But strong political undertones add a dark side to the plot pushing the two into action.
Outraged over changes in Oz, Elphaba and Galinda travel to the Emerald City to meet the Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Richard Kline) and ask him to correct the injustice.
But when they meet him, they realize the wizard is not wonderful at all; he is a corrupt man looking for idolization.
Elphaba realizes that she must make a life-changing decision: to stay with the Wizard and give in to his wrongdoings or defy him by trying to make things good again.
In “Defying Gravity,” Vivino belted out a powerful performance ascending into the air in a spectacle of smoke and lights. Her performance rivaled that of her predecessor Idina Menzel, who originated the character in 2003.
Schwartz’s depiction of Galinda was pleasing – her whit and natural humor made the character believable in fantasy world.
Though Vivino began meekly with performances lacking in vocal power, she finished strong in the second act and commanded the audience’s attention.
Other great performances came from the free-spirited prince Fiyero (Richard H. Blake), who falls in love with Glinda and whose quirky dancing and charming smile won the observers’ hearts.
The best performance came from Kline, whose acting was believable and whose dancing and singing were refreshing.
The show’s last production at the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts is on Feb. 28.
For more information visit strazcenter.org.