Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Wicked (The SOB Review)

Wicked (The SOB Review) - Helsingin Kaupungin Teatteri, Helsinki, Finland

***1/2 (out of ****)

For the third time, Stephen Schwartz's musical Wicked is being produced in a language other than English.

Yet the show now playing at the Helsingin Kaupungin Teatteri (Helsinki City Theatre) is the first "non-replicated" production ever of the tuner, meaning that Wicked isn't using the original Broadway staging. Instead, it's been conceived with new creative designs that lends an incredibly fresh perspective to this already classic work, thanks to Hans Berndtsson's inventive direction.

While the Finns -- or for that matter the rest of the world -- may not know "The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz" quite the way Americans do (we've practically been weaned on the movie since birth), almost nothing is lost in translation in Berndtsson's reimagined Wicked.

In fact, his vision hews this incarnation much closer to the 1939 film, complete with a dazzling double for Dorothy (Hanna Mönkäre) -- the first time this character has been seen on stage in Wicked. The girl in the blue gingham dress drops in at appropriate times throughout the performance including the climax, which proves to be eminently more satisfying than the Broadway original. This Wicked better complements the film than the original mounting, which in retrospect left some sizeable gaps between it and its forebear.

Given Finland's close proximity to the fomer Soviet Union (Helsinki is less than 200 miles away from the Russian border), perhaps it's no surprise that the sinister Wizard (Eero Saarinen) is drawn with Soviet-style shadings as he attempts to tamp down the peasants by giving them a new enemy in Elphaba (Maria Ylipää). I couldn't help but think Saarinen's Wizard as a perfect doppelgänger for Alec Baldwin aping Joseph Stalin. Berndttson's choices here, along with further nuance for the once-speaking animals subtly blended in throughout the show, prove chillingly effective.

Less so is the director's conception of Oz, where he seems to have attempted to insert more pages from Gregory Maguire's much more graphic and decidedly more adult book. Oz apparently has a seedy underbelly, complete with what appears to be a leather disco where Elphaba and Glinda (Anna-Maija Tuokko) celebrate their "One Fine Day" ("Päivän Vain") in the Emerald City. More bizarre is a series of bubbles that come alive with scantily clad dancers during "Loistavaa" ("Wonderful") as the Wizard is trying to woo Elphaba back into his fold. Are these the same bubbles that the Wizard has created for Glinda to come and gone by?

However, Wicked is ultimately about "The Wizard Of Oz" backstory of how two very different women find friendship and empowerment. In this regard, Berndttson's vision doesn't disappoint and in fact excels. Tuokko is as giddy and gorgeous as any Glinda I've seen, and her comic timing and agile voice couldn't be better. Ylipää effortlessly wins our hearts as the misunderstood green girl. Both Ylipää's Elphaba and Tuokko's Glinda soar, whether by bubble or broom, to breathtaking heights by putting their own indelible stamps on these roles and making them their own.

Overall, this Wicked is fresh, exciting, absolutely wonderful and full of aahs. For me, it was most definitely worth the trip.

Click here to view the offical program. Currently, this production of Wicked is selling tickets through December 31, 2010.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminate against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I have received nothing of value in exchange for this post.

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