Wicked - the Los Angeles Tour
a kate west review
music & lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, book by Winnie Holzman
directed by Joe Mantelloat the Pantages Theater, 6801 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90028 running Summer 2005 in Los Angeles & touring nationwide
contact (323) 462-6898 or http://www.wickedthemusicaltour.com/cities/la.htm

[Warning - plot spoiler may be included!]

Direct from New York's Broadway, the Tony award winning mega-hit musical "Wicked", now at the Pantages in Hollywood, is as spectacularly satisfying on tour as it is in the Big Apple. Based on Gregory Maguire's innovative novel of the same name, the story centers on the behind-the-scenes story of the Wicked Witch of the West of "The Wizard of Oz" fame (also check out the L. Frank Baum books and the MGM film).

The witch herself, Elphaba (Stephanie J. Block), has the odds stacked against her from an early age. She was born green, first of all, assuring her status as an outcast. And it all seems to go downhill from there. Yet in spite of her hardships, she manages to find her inner power and exceed her own expectations. Along the way, she encounters many people to help her achieve this. First, her instructor at Shiz University, Doctor Dillamond (Timothy Britten Parker), and then Galinda (Kendra Kassebaum), who later becomes Glinda, the Good Witch. Handsome Fiyero (Derrick Williams) is her dashing love interest in contrast to the many friends who inevitably turn into enemies - like the Wonderful Wizard of Oz (David Garrison), Madame Morrible (Carol Kane) and even the seemingly innocuous Munchkin Boq (Logan Lipton).

Glinda sets up the entire tale for us as a flashback at the top of the show. Kendra Kassebaum gives a delightful performance as the effervescent and irrepressible ditzy-blonde "good" girl and does some darn good scene stealing to boot. We will soon discover that the wicked and the good are sometimes not so easy to define. Elphaba and her sister Nessarose (Jenna Leigh Green) are sent to school after their mother dies. Nessarose is in a wheelchair and Elphaba is well, green, so they are definitely the resident oddballs. Glinda is the queen of the ball and the favorite of all the students, but not the instructors. Of course she and Elphaba go from hating each other ("What is this Feeling?") to being the best of friends. Their friendship makes them stronger and they are irreparably changed for having known each other ("For Good").

Stage and television veteran Carol Kane is the chirpy Madame Morrible at Shiz University who first glimpses the possibilities of Elphaba's awesome power. Her initial dismissal of Glinda's power ultimately becomes her undoing. Elphaba eventually becomes disillusioned with the school when Doctor Dillamond is dismissed for being a goat. It seems that talking animals will no longer be tolerated in Oz.

After visiting her hero, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and feeling betrayed by him as well, Elphaba strikes out on her own in what is usually the most spectacular number of the entire show - "Defying Gravity". Stephanie J. Block is wonderful and amazing as Elphaba, conveying a sincere depth of emotion, in spite of this particular night's faux pas (her harness didn't work and she was not able to fly). All the musical numbers are fantastic, especially the crowd-pleasing "Popular" with Glinda and Elphaba, "One Short Day" where a green-clad chorus regales us with the magic of the Emerald City, and "No One Mourns the Wicked," another captivating chorus number. The entire cast is strong and stands up quite favorably in comparison with the original Broadway cast.

And yes, Dorothy Gale of Kansas is referenced (again, see the movie or read the books) but we never actually see her. However, her house still falls on top of Nessarose in a twister and she does steal her magic shoes and Elphaba does get splashed with water and dies (or does she?) We also learn the origins of the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion in a "Star Wars III; Revenge of the Sith" type of revelation (from the famous George Lucas film sagas). Oz die-hards will love all the clever "inside jokes". And for those of you who have read the oddly original novel "Wicked", you'll find that this version is much more satisfying, especially when accompanied with memorable tunes and terrific production values.

Director Joe Mantello is to be commended for his fine directing, Susan Hilferty for the richly fantastical costumes and Eugene Lee for the stage settings, like the great silver dragon overlooking the top of the stage. The entire production crew is Broadway-professional and phenomenal (except for that one time poor Elphaba didn't get to fly). Balancing between darkness and light, such as the dirty world of politics, the dangers of intolerance and the freedom of realizing your own potential and fulfilling your own dreams, it's a heck of a fun show and well worth every penny. You won't want it to end. You might not know who you like better - Elphaba or Glinda (two very sexy sorceresses, by the way) - but you'll sure never look a witch the same way again. And hopefully not be too quick to judge wickedness. Be sure to catch it soon in a city near you, as it's the hottest ticket in town and selling out fast.

Read the story first:
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

Then enjoy the Broadway score:
Wicked (2003 Original Broadway Cast) Read more!


a kate west review
written by Martin Sherman; directed by Claudia Jaffee
at the Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd. North Hollywood, CA
running Fridays - Sundays; July 14 - August 21, 2005
contact (323) 960-7740 or www.plays411.com/bent

The basic premise of Martin Sherman's play "Bent" is about tolerance. In a modern age where we still experience much intolerance this should be a blessed relief, but unfortunately, the play falls a bit short, emotionally.

Gay playboy Max (John Marzilli) and the shy dancer Rudy (Jon Cohn) are living as lovers, just as the Nazis take over in 1930's Germany. Homosexuality, always socially controversial, is especially taboo in the Third Reich. Nevertheless, pragmatic Max lives it up, while still understanding what's going on in the periphery, but Rudy lives in denial. Confronted by the present at last, in the form of a stranger, Wolfe (Michael Bronte), that they pick up in a bar one night, their world comes crashing down around them when Wolfe is taken by the Gestapo. Forced to flee themselves, Max and Rudy soon become fugitives.

John Marzilli does all right as Max, though he sometimes comes across too gruff and Jon Cohn is a bit too presentational. (To be fair, however, Cohn's delicate flower character is not the most well rounded to begin with and Marzilli does not always have enough dimension to work with either.) Also, the supporting characters, like Greta (Geoffrey Dwyer) and the Nazi Captain (Paul Vroom) are not real standouts.

The Nazis eventually catch up to Max and Rudy and en route to Dachau, Max makes a horrible decision in order to survive. He also meets Horst (Josh Gordon) who becomes his survival guide and in spite of the circumstances, in spite of the horror and their initial reluctance, Max and Horst fall in love. Constantly under surveillance by evil Nazi guards, they develop a way of communicating so that no one will suspect them. Their first point of contention, the fact that Max pretends to be Jewish, preferring the yellow star to the pink triangle that Horst wears, eventually fades to the background as they begin to understand each other. Max has always been in denial about real love (much like Rudy was in denial about the outside world) and was never very good at getting in touch with his feelings. With Horst, however, he becomes his best self. Josh Gordon is highly sympathetic as Horst and of all the cast best expresses the subtlety and diversity of emotion.

Yet in spite of Gordon's excellent performance, the production lacks real heart. Director Claudia Jaffee makes the best of it, but we are left feeling a bit too removed. Max and Horst try to create something beautiful in the middle of all the ugliness, but even with some strongly tragic scenes, we should care more than we do. While there is good historical content, there is not a well-realized and emotionally satisfying ending. Still, half the audience seemed wrapped up in the story so it could go either way. Note: this is not a play for children, so leave them at home. And aside from the strong content (violence and sexuality), there is also brief nudity and some gunshot sounds. Read more!