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A fun stroll to the yellow brick road

It's been one hundred three years since L. Frank Baum penned his storied fable The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and more than sixty years since Victor Fleming immortalized the tale in film. What allows The Wizard of Oz to endure as a classic are the universal themes that people of all ages can relate to. Children appreciate the story at face value, a scared child simply wanting to return to the safe haven of her home, while adults can see the symbolic meanings behind each of the characters. Fast forward to 2003, and we now look at the times leading up to Dorothy in the new Stephen Schwartz' (Godspell, Pippin) musical Wicked.

The story picks up as the two witches, the Legally Blonde-esque good witch Glinda and the emerald- hued wicked witch Elphaba, are beginning their time at university. Glinda's classic beauty and effervescent personality quickly elevate her to the pinnacle of popularity, while Elphaba's unconventional looks and drab wardrobe make her the easy target of Glinda's ridicule. Eventually however, after what appears to be a magnanimous gesture by Glinda towards Elphaba's sister, Nessarose, a friendship begins to bloom between the two witches.

What gives the story its teeth, however, is following the development, or rather the disenchantment of
Elphaba. Despite her portrayal as wicked, early in the play Elphaba proves herself to be both responsible and ethical. She acts as the surrogate mother for her wheelchair-bound sister, and is the only student to support and befriend the persecuted goat professor Dr. Dillamond. In fact, her desire to protect the rights of animals is what ultimately causes her to lose faith in the people of Oz.

A musical's worth, however, encompasses more than just a simple story, but rather the synergistic
extravaganza of song, dance, and story. Schwartz describes his composition approach to the ensemble numbers as "atonal and rhythmically jagged" in order to clearly distinguish the world of Oz from our own. Though it's an admirable aim, I can't proclaim it a successful experiment. The booming alto vocals of Elphaba clash with the unharmonious notes of Schwartz's composition. It's only in their solos, when Schwartz reverts to a more melodic tone, that we get a chance to truly appreciate the musical talents of the two leads.

Though the music can be hit and miss at times, the dance is more or less just miss. The choreography utilizes elements from hip-hop, swing, and ballet, but the combination ends up appearing sloppy. The image that repeatedly comes to mind is that of a puppeteer, yanking strings attached to character's limbs causing them to sway gracelessly. On the other hand, the sets and costumes are absolutely breathtaking. Wonderfully elaborate and uniquely styled, the costumes accomplish what the atonal music attempts to do. They provide a sense that Oz is very much real, and very much its own enchanting

In the end, you walk out smiling, because you enjoyed yourself. Outside of the dance, there is a
tremendous amount to like. There is great chemistry between the two leads, first as enemies, and later as friends. Along the way, their banter provides numerous moments that make you laugh out loud. Though musically it does not compare to the greatest musicals, it is generally strong. Combine all of these, and you get a well-spent evening of entertainment. And while not the classic that The Wizard of Oz is, Wicked possesses some of the same qualities that have allowed it to endure.

Wicked plays at the Curran Theatre through June 29.
Performances are at 8 pm Tuesdays - Saturdays, and at 2 pm on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Tickets are $30 - $65. The Curran theatre is located at 445 Geary St (between Mason and Taylor),
San Francisco. For information call 415.551.2000. For reservations call 415.512.7770

<a href="/business.php?blId=839">Curran Theatre</a>
445 Geary Street
(between Mason and Taylor)
Time: Tuesday - Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2 pm.
Admission: $30 - $85 general admission
Phone: 415.551.2000
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