Fresno Beehive

Sure, the songs get stuck in your head, but it’s worth it to see ‘Wicked.’ There’s still time

Behind the scenes look at the stage setup for Wicked

In preparation for Wicked's return to the Morrison Center in Boise, we spoke with Wicked's production stage manager David O'Brien to see what it takes to setup the stage, sound and lighting.
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In preparation for Wicked's return to the Morrison Center in Boise, we spoke with Wicked's production stage manager David O'Brien to see what it takes to setup the stage, sound and lighting.

Back when the hysteria over “Wicked” was still new, I had a boss who was fairly obsessed. She played the original cast recording on repeat in the car on lunch outings and on the office computer; so I became familiar.

I was reminded of the fact while watching the touring production of the Broadway musical Thursday night at the Saroyan Theatre. Also on the trip home and again the following morning and at all the subsequent moments when “Defying Gravity” played through my head.

“Wicked” is full of ear worms.

It’s also full of the Broadway-level production and acting that people have come to expect from the Broadway in Fresno series (which also brought “Wicked” to town in 2011 and 2014).

The sets and costumes have been re-imagined some on this tour, and Erin Mackey’s portrayal of Glinda (the good witch) came off at times like a bubblier Cheri Oteri Saturday Night Live skit, which is a different take on the character that somehow totally worked (especially in the first act, when things are played light and airy and for the laughs).

There is plenty to take away from “Wicked.”

On its face, the musical is an extension of the “Wizard of Oz” universe and plays on the same sort of fun, dark whimsy. That is fun to watch.

The play could also be seen as a comment on authoritarianism and the political power of crafting a good narrative (even if it’s a total lie). That feels current and true.

But ultimately, “Wicked” is a rather heartbreaking story about the elusive nature of happiness. In Oz, it seems, everyone is suffering. Some are just better at hiding it — like the always upbeat Glinda, who’s pretty and popular and seems to have everything she could ever want.

Until she doesn’t.

“This must be what other people feel like,” she says.

Indeed.

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Erin Mackey and Mariand Torres star in the touring production of “Wicked.” Joan Marcus

Arg, the sound

While the production and acting came off as top notch, the sound inside the Saroyan Theatre was spotty at best. Modern audiences, those more accustomed to movie theater than the theatre, expect full, booming surround sound. Here, the sound seemed to fluctuate from the center of the stage and at times got lost in the room.

This isn’t a new complaint for the Saroyan. It wasn’t enough to sink the show, but it was noticeable.

It’s all about the merchandising

To truly understand the popularity of “Wicked” as a cultural phenomenon, one can look at the musical’s merchandising. There was a store’s worth of “Wicked” related memorabilia for sale in the front lobby, from T-shirts and socks to running jackets and sweat pants. There were coffee mugs, snow globes and the cast recording (on vinyl, of course).

Over heard: “Ooh, they have the ‘Wicked’ bible.”

He did apologize

Mili Diaz as Nessarose and Michael Wartella as Boq in WICKED. Photo by Joan Marcus (0034r).jpg
Mili Diaz as Nessarose and Michael Wartella as Boq. Joan Marcus

Michael Wartella did not get booed.

The actor, who played the role of Boq, found himself in the middle of a social media dust-up this week after he posted an Instragram video on a self-guided tour of downtown Fresno.

He was not impressed, let’s say.

As the video made the rounds, it caught the attention of the city’s communication manager, Mark Standriff (a bit of an actor himself), who posted a “Wicked” response of his own. Pun intended. Wartella apologized in another post Thursday.

Wartella and the entire cast got a full and hearty round of applause at curtain call.

Not over yet

There is plenty of “Wicked” left. The show has matinee and evening performances through March 31.

For those without tickets, the box office is running a lottery for a limited number of $25 orchestra seats. The seats are available cash-only, in person with ID at the box office. There is a limit of two tickers per person. You must place you name in the lottery 2 1/2 hours before showtime.

Joshua Tehee covers breaking news, with a focus on entertainment and a heavy emphasis on the Central Valley music scene. You can see him share the area’s top entertainment options Friday mornings on KMPH’s “Great Day.”

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