The Greeks employed a stage device known as a deus ex machina, used to lower and raise gods onto the playing area. And the thrill of watching such celestial comings and goings is available at Proctors, where the national touring company of “Wicked” is delivering a high-energy performance of the 2003 musical by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman (based on Gregory Maguire’s novel).
There are other delights. Susan Hilferty’s imaginative costume design and Eugene Lee’s clever wheels-within-wheels scenic design (both Tony winners) and the nominated lighting design of Kenneth Posner make the evening a visual pleasure even when the story wanders and the score doesn’t always hold your attention.
In his 1995 book, Maguire imagined the back story to L. Frank Baum’s tale of Dorothy and her dream. Who are the two witches the young Kansan meets, and why is there such enmity? What’s the history of the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Lion? Like Baum, who ultimately wrote 13 sequels to “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” Maguire followed up his initial effort with three sequels.
Maguire neatly turns our sympathies on their ear by making the beloved Glinda (Amanda Jane Cooper) a ditzy, self-absorbed blonde, and Elphaba (Jessica Vosk), her green-hued college roommate, an outcast. Over the course of their relationship, both young witchy women struggle to find the better sides of themselves, not always with success. But as the famous duet “For Good” says near the end of the play, “[B]ecause I knew you, I have been changed for good.”
The cast, under Joe Mantello’s stage direction and Dan Micciche’s musical direction, plays it loud and fast and funny. (Despite the ensemble’s good efforts, their words are often drowned out by the orchestra, which otherwise is spot-on.) As headmistress Madame Morrible, Broadway pro Isabel Keating massages the proceedings with drop-dead line delivery, and the supple-voiced Fred Applegate makes the Wizard’s “A Sentimental Man” a charming moment.
Andy Mientus scores as the lovestruck Boq; Harry Bouvy is touching as the doomed Doctor Dillamond; Kristen Martin’s Nessarose is properly desperate and scary; and Jeremy Woodard credibly transforms Fiyero from a monochromatic pretty boy to someone worthy of the colorful Elphaba — fine work by both performers on “As Long as You’re Mine.”
Which part would you try out for — Glinda or Elphaba? If you’re a comedic actress, go for the former. What Cooper does with Glinda is a sleight-of-hand: she has a BFA from Carnegie Mellon, sure, but her timing, gestures, and expressions come from some innate playfulness. Priceless. Or if you want to get the show’s two biggest solo numbers — “Defying Gravity” and “No Good Deed” — and take a shot at delivering them as stunningly as Vosk does, Elphaba’s your ticket. Either way, these are two great parts being given two terrific performances.
Literary critics often refer to the politically allegorical nature of the Oz books. On Thursday the audience had many chuckles with lines that seem to comment on our current political situation — one more source of the show’s enjoyment.
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St.
WHEN: through Mar. 12
HOW MUCH: $153-$38
MORE INFO: 346.6204, or proctors.org