Wondertastically ‘Wicked’

After record-breaking box office sales in 2006 and 2011, a wave of “Wicked”-ness has finally washed over Orange County, as the Broadway hit returns to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. With a cast of talented Oz-ians, the show is spreading magic throughout Orange County and telling the untold story of Oz.

For almost a decade, this witchy phenomenon has captivated audiences with an amazing musical score and a story that is as heart-wrenching as it is funny. The contrast between good and evil, and expectation and reality, drive this show and establish an interesting effect that is unique to musical theater.

But despite the reputation that comes with the name “Wicked,” it’s the munchkins and witches on the stage that give this production all of its sparkle.

A bright surprise followed a devastating blow last Thursday evening after Patti Murin, the lead for Glinda the Good Witch, came down with the flu. After opening the show in Costa Mesa only the night before, the question regarding the integrity of the show fell onto the shoulders of her understudy, Cassie Okenka.

To say that Okenka “played” the role of Glinda the Good Witch would be an understatement. For the evening, draped in glittering jewels, Okenka was Glinda, elevating the role of a good witch to an absolutely great one.

Starting out slowly, it was clear from the start that her theatricality was on point, but her introductory song did not initially show her true range. Concerning at first, Okenka’s strong lower register echoed notes of an Alto, but once she was warmed up, her powerful Soprano high notes filled the Segerstrom theater.

And once Elphaba, also known as the Wicked Witch of the West, played by the wonderful Dee Roscioli, stepped onto stage, her ethereal voice filled the spaces in beautiful harmony.

Although both Okenka and Roscioli are amazing singers in their own rights, their performances were really elevated by the show’s theatrics and the way that they both fed off of one another’s performances. Their similar vocal timbres, which give sounds to their unique flavor, at times overlap, two beautiful voices blending into one. In moments of the song “Loathing,” the singers lose their individual voices, but differentiate themselves through their character portrayals.

But it’s not just the leading ladies that make the show. The cast is truly packed full of stars, and it’s a testament to the capabilities of the entire cast that an understudy could take the stage and steal the show.

Though sometimes left out of the spotlight, the men of “Wicked” offer strong support to the leading ladies and shine on their own too. Tackling Fosse-esque dance choreography and a range of musical styles, the men show that they too deserve some time in the limelight.

Is the show perfect? No, but no show ever is. It’s all about how they deal with mistakes and still provide a superior quality performance.

The problems lie in the details. Cohesivity — yes, I’m coining the term — is key. In such a large-scale production, it’s difficult to pinpoint too many mistakes when the actors go off-script, but it’s the group choreography that needs to be improved upon. The actress in the polka-dot halter dress may think that no one saw how she fell two beats off count, but when everyone is doing the same choreography, it becomes distracting from the leads.

And it’s not just the actors that this responsibility falls upon. The sights and sounds are equally as important to the success of a show as its actors.

I’ll be honest; the scenery did not meet the high standards that would have been expected of a play this grandiose. The background was not as gaudy as expected, and many of the props were campy at best. However, impeccable costume design brought a lovely light to the stage.

Something that is sometimes overlooked in reviewing musical theater is the orchestra — the musical component. Technically, the orchestra is sound. Not a note off key, not a single member was out of tune the entire night. But then again, so is a machine. The flaw that arises with such a technically sound orchestra is the disconnect between theatricality and musicianship.

The musicians followed their cues and followed the sheet music to a tee. But without invoking crescendos or decrescendos, the job of the conductor could have simply been replaced by a cue machine. Like taking a series of words and creating poetry, it’s the unique use of techniques driven by the conductor that elevate the dots on paper into true music.

Overall, the quality of the show surpassed expectations, with the highlight being the pleasant surprise of Okenka and the amazing production put together by the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, and it’s truly a sight to be seen. Continuing a decade-long legacy of “Wicked” humor and talent, this cast is continuing to keep its audiences under their spell. In short, truly Oz-some!