Forget the flying monkeys: The most gravity defying part of this musical is how much "Wicked" relies on the big-gestured charm of its leads, and Donna Vivino's Elphaba, the green-skinned young witch, and Katie Rose Clarke's Glinda the Good are a fine pair.
Vivino's velvet-toned voice rises to the challenge of the score's pop-ballad theatrics, and she makes good on her to-the-rafters "Defying Gravity" number that thrills as it sends theatergoers off to intermission. Yet, perhaps even better is how the actor's physical gestures, such as the way she distinctively pushes her glasses up her green nose, reveal her awkwardness.
As the hair-tossing blond witch, Clarke, too, makes Glinda her own, even if the character will forever belong to Broadway's Kristin Chenoweth. Clarke undergirds the self-absorbed beautiful girl role with a surprisingly physical touch, flexing her muscles awkwardly whenever she reveals just how unaware she is of her own narcissism.
Together, the actors' voices blend and harmonize beautifully, and their triple talents -- acting, singing and dancing -- is silhouetted by the well-choreographed, well-wigged ensemble. Another of the show's great pleasures is the talented five-member traveling orchestra, strengthened by nine Salt Lake City musicians.
The plot's simple: "Wicked" tells the backstory of what led to the split of former friends and roommates who find their future when they stumble on the secret of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Lenny Wolpe). Both Elphaba, the green girl, and the beautiful Glinda, who's got her own talent for malapropisms, fall in love with the handsome, rich Fiyero (played on Thursday night by understudy Bryan West), who discovers he's less shallow then he thinks.
When the girls hit Emerald City, they're set at odds thanks to the Wizard's need to appease his subjects. Complications ensue, and eventually Elphaba goes into hiding, as she works to become Oz's animal activist.
The score offers a lot of expositional songs (note how often key changes signal emotional transitions), while the plot is classic overstuffed Broadway. What works, though, is how cleverly "Wicked" serves as a backstory adding ballast and nuance to the much-loved story of "The Wizard of Oz."
On Thursday, West's Fiyero, an understudy who stepped in to play the romantic lead, hit his notes, but couldn't quite hold his own with the female firepower. But that didn't hamper the audience's enjoyment of such crowd-pleasing numbers included Clarke's "Popular," Vivino's character-defining "Defying Gravity," and the ensemble's "For Good."
- Additional reporting by Roxana Orellana.
Bottom line » "Wicked's" clever details and talented cast deliver Broadway-scale entertainment.
When » Reviewed April 9; plays through May 3; weeknights at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays-Saturdays 8 p.m.; Sundays at 1 and 6:30 p.m.
Where » Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City.
Tickets » Sold out; 10 sets of tickets will be available in a lottery, with sign-up in the theater lobby two hours before every performance; tickets are $25 (cash only), and winners will be announced 90 minutes before curtain.
Run time » Two hours 45 minutes, with intermission.