Despite many stunning visuals and terrific singing and dancing, there's a quiet moment in "Wicked"- the touring version now at The Smith Center - that helped me understand why I like this production so much.
After about a half-hour of enjoyable in-your-face dazzle, Glinda, the obnoxiously nice and popular college student, notices Elphaba, the outcast, doing some weird interpretative dance in front of a group. At first, Glinda reacts as if to say, "I was right. She is beneath me."
But then something draws her to the outcast's side. She slowly joins her roomie in movement. For the first time, the image-obsessed woman doesn't care what others think. The brief nonverbal communication cements the couple's friendship. Dazzle is nice (and I say that with no sarcasm), but this understated bit of business gives the goings-on a foundation.
Director Joe Mantello has seen to it that this Stephen Schwartz musical has a human pulse. Its core is a celebration of friendship, of opposites and the importance of respecting differences.
Does anyone not know the plot of this Broadway phenomenon? Suffice to say, it's about the Wicked Witch of the West becoming the Wicked Witch of the West, and Glinda becoming the Good Witch of the North. (I'm sure I don't need to tell you the name of the movie that made these characters a staple of popular culture.)
This production is gloriously joyful. You sit there watching one energetic number after another and marvel at how the theater can uplift you in such a uniquely magical way.
Nicole Parker is a touching Elphaba. With her braided hair and uncertain demeanor, she comes across at first as an awkward intellectual. Her gradual transformation from innocent adolescent to powerful sorcerer is believable and fun (and comes with a great voice). Cliffton Hall, as the love interest Fiyero, suggests on first appearance a cardboard cutout of a leading man. But he soon proves himself not only an actor of depth but a marvelous singer and an even better athletic dancer. He moves with such precision that you feel he's capable of controlling his every thread of hair.
The plot takes awhile to build steam but explodes in the second act. If it were a book, I'd label it "a page-turner."
The ensemble is first-rate, and the nearly three-dozen cast members keep surprising you with their polish.
Patti Murin gains strength in the second act when her Glinda loses her naivete. But her first act feels faked. She can't seem to get under the skin of her cherubim character. And the book and score - while often full of oomph - are equally often competent rather than inspired.
But this is a production I'd love to see again and again. It makes it hard for me to remember Las Vegas before The Smith Center.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.