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Review: 'Wicked' is wickedly good

Marie Havenga • Oct 25, 2017 at 9:32 AM

GRAND RAPIDS — Like many Oz ambitions — a heart, a brain, courage or a home — circumstances sometimes happen magically in life. Almost inexplicably.

That's how Yellow Brick Road fate unfolded for Ginna Claire Mason, who plays Glinda the Good in Broadway Grand Rapids' staging of “Wicked,” the award-winning musical that chronicles the younger lives of the witches before Dorothy cycloned onto the scene.

Performances at DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids run through Nov. 5.

During a telephone interview with the Tribune from Cincinnati, where she had recently taken over the good witch role after serving as an understudy for 16 months, Mason expressed her love of the role, despite the 14-pound blue bubble dress that drapes her in some scenes.

It's a lifelong love, one scripted from her own personal playbill.

At age 13, after “Wicked” first opened on Broadway in 2003, Mason attended a show with her dad at New York's Gershwin Theater. Spellbound from the moment the curtain lifted, Mason seemed destined to become part of those spells.

“I looked at my dad at intermission and said, 'I'm going to play Glinda someday,'” Mason said.

Her father, ever the realist, responded: “You and every other little girl in this theater.”

They purchased the show's soundtrack as a souvenir, and left the theater.

But the dream never left her heart.

That's why when the curtain rose at DeVos Performance Hall this past Thursday night, Mason starred as Glinda, hoisted down in an airborne bubble-filled ring and into a crowd of Munchkins celebrating the death of the Wicked Witch of the West, who had been recently water-bucketed by Dorothy and melted into demise.

The show flashes back here, to the real story, that of Glinda and Elphaba (Mary Kate Morrissey), the Wicked Witch of the West, and their years in school together — not only learning sorcery curriculum, but learning life lessons.

That's where this show shines, not just in the glowing green skin of Elphaba (first appearing when her mother gave birth and her father walked away in disgust), but in the reminders for us all, of how often we may scorn because of skin color, or disability, or simply differences in life experiences.

Underneath the princess pomp and curious circumstance, “Wicked” remains a gut-level life story, where we can transcend differences and reach for common good.

Elphaba is committed to the good of saving animals and battling corrupt government in Oz. Glinda, well, is committed to Glinda.

Mason pulls off her dim-wit, full-of-self role flawlessly, but in the end, recognizes that the “For Good” song she belts out in strong soprano is all about what really matters — friendship, commitment and respect in each others lives.

Stephen Schwartz's music and lyrics tie all the pieces together in catchy, dramatic fashion in this production of the 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire. The crew of “Wicked” does an amazing job of whisking set pieces in and out while the cast keeps us focused on transitional song and dance moves.

Without divulging the entire script, which sorts and swaps “Wizard of Oz” characters and themes into the Broadway show in the cleverest of ways, the Wicked Witch is not quite the person we thought she was. She's not the cackling, cruel-hearted, dog-snatching, ruby-red-shoe-obsessed green lady that scared every kid who ever watched the 1939 MGM classic movie or broadcasts on primitive big-box television screens.

She's a kind-hearted gal, misunderstood by friends and family alike, given the charge to take care of her wheelchair-bound sister, who turns out to be another famed character in the movie adaptation of L. Frank Baum's children's story.

Shout-out to Morrisey, who took over the leading role of the Wicked Witch just a few weeks ago, for totally eclipsing expectations — from her deep, overly assertive voice in the beginning of the show, to melting into softer friendship tones toward the end. And that vocal range and projection? You have to see it to believe it's real-life talent and not some momentary magic spell of Oz.

Other shout-outs to Isabel Keating and her portrayal of Madame Morrible (she makes a very believable, bullying school marm/villain, with seemingly chiseled and sculpted blonde hair rolls), Tom McGowan as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Jon Robert Hall as Fiyero, whose posture and gait perfectly pull off the majesty of the surprise closing scene.

Dorothy, the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion aren't forgotten in this Wizard of Oz backstory, but they're brought in subtly, and sometimes humorously, such as when Elphaba asks, “Who takes a dead woman's shoes? You must have been raised in a barn.”

The show seamlessly transitions from a fictional past to present, and back again, but perhaps will best be remembered for its real-life reminder: Dreams can manifest, no matter the circumstances we're born into, or land in.

“I was a huge ‘Wizard of Oz’ fan,” Mason said. “For Christmas every year I'd ask for ‘Wizard of Oz’ dolls. I'd watch the movie on repeat over and over again. I loved 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow.'”

Now, she's living a sliver of that rainbow, with a close friend who happens to be green, at her side.

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