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Theatre Review: "Wicked"

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Think of it as "The Girls From Oz.”

"Wicked,” the flip side to the “Wizard of Oz” has a lot more in common with "The Boy From Oz" than you might think. Just as Hugh Jackman's awesome performance keeps his show afloat, the two mesmerizing stars of "Wicked" will keep theirs from melting into oblivion.

Described as a dense epic fantasy, 'Wicked," based on a novel, is an intricate work. It tells the story of Elphaba, the bright but neglected young girl born with green skin who is good and kind.

How she turns into the wicked witch is a long, winding road filled with bizarre characters and strange plot twists. The problem with the show's book, by Winnie Holzman, is that it has to cover so much ground in a connect-the-dots fashion that we're deprived of the necessary depth and character development to make us really care about Elphaba or her unlikely friend Galinda, who later becomes Glinda the good witch.

Director Joe Mantello handles the intimate scenes well, but he's not quite as successful moving the traffic on Eugene Lee's dark, mechanical set. The ensemble numbers are indistinguishable. The special effects were impressive but a show of this caliber needed more.

Stephen Schwartz, the composer behind "Godspell" and "Pippin," has written some lovely music, particularly his ballads for the witches, but the score is uneven and the beautiful melodies that marked his earlier works are disappointingly absent here.

But he is a lucky man, because Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel are a songwriter's best friends. Their glorious voices are matched by sensational acting. As the vain Glinda, Chenoweth is an incredible comedienne. Her timing and way with a comic line are impeccable. Holzman's book is chock full of silly word play and puns and Chenoweth zings every one of them.

Idina Menzell, who wowed us in “Rent,” is doing the same now. Elphaba is an extremely challenging role but Menzell sets the stage on fire, convincingly switching from good to evil with chilling ease.

And while this is "Oz," the wizard seems stuck in "Chicago", the stage musical where the great Joel Grey performed the same milquetoast role as Mr. Cellophane.

As the cocky love interest, Fiyero, Norbert Leo Butz is terrific.

“Wizard of Oz” fans will be fascinated by all the back stories, answering such questions as “Is Glinda really that good?” and “Where did the flying monkeys come from?” But the best thing about "Wicked" is its stars, whose talents cast a powerful spell.

If only the rest of the show had half their magic.

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