Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Most important, this production has the strong core it needs with Jessica Vosk as Elphaba and Amanda Jane Cooper as Glinda. The whole point of Holzman's book and Stephen Schwartz's score, adapted from Gregory Maguire's novel, is the complicated truth beyond the simplistic labels of "good" and "evil" portrayed in The Wizard of Oz as a green-skinned wicked witch and an angelic good witch in a white gown. (It's an interesting contrast with the production of Into the Woods next door in the Eisenhower Theater: the themes are similar, but Into the Woods invites the audience to help create the spectacle that Wicked provides.)
Vosk is a powerhouse performer who conveys Elphaba's innate integrity throughout. She may be abrasive and moody (no one likes a grimly serious young woman, especially if she has green skin) but she learns from her experiences and never loses her need to do what she knows to be right. Cooper is appropriately pert and self-absorbed, growing in stature as Glinda realizes that life is less about her own popularity and more about "dwelling on the past" (her objection to studying history). She has the soaring soprano voice while going easy on the extra vocal tricks that can become annoying.
Isabel Keating, recently a heartbreaking Birdie in The Little Foxes at Arena Stage, exercises a totally different set of acting muscles as the imperious Madame Morrible. Fred Applegate is an avuncular Wonderful Wizard of Oz, as he's billed here, which makes his political calculations seem even more chilling. (He stays in power by disenfranchising minority populations and giving the general public targets for their anger.) Chad Jennings gives a touching performance as Doctor Dillamond, the last sentient animal to teach at the university attended by Elphaba and Glinda, and Jeremy Woodard and Andy Mientus give solid performances as Fiyero and Boq respectively.
Joe Mantello's direction remains crisp and compulsively watchable, assisted by Wayne Cilento's almost continuous musical staging. Eugene Lee's scenic design may be less detailed than on Broadway, with assistance from Elaine J. McCarthy's projections, but the mechanical dragon perched on the proscenium still has flashing red eyes and flaps its wings, and Susan Hilferty's costumes are a hilarious mashup of eras and styles, lit atmospherically by Kenneth Posner.