Many people claim the scariest moment of their childhood was when the Wicked Witch of the West appeared in Oz, snarling, "I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!" All praise goes to Cleveland native Margaret Hamilton, who conjured a witch that has populated millions of shivering childhood nightmares.
Ms. Hamilton's ghost seems to be prowling the stages of Playhouse Square this holiday season. WWW shows up in a dream sequence in the Allen Theatre during the Cleveland Play House production of A Christmas Story, and then nabs one of the two starring roles in a return engagement of the monster hit musical Wicked at the State Theatre.
Of course, Wicked is about the original Wicked Witch and her counterpart Glinda the Good Witch, not the versions Hamilton and Billie Burke created in the iconic flick. But their indelible performances always seem to hover around and about this show, featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Winnie Holzman.
This show has been performed so many times in so many places, it's as seamless and smooth as a billiard ball. But that's how the devotees of the play, many of whom tend to be teen and pre-teen girls, want it to be.
This production doesn't disappoint from that perspective. Indeed, it may even exceed previous touring companies in some respects.
Featuring a story with some fairly complex plot turns that chronologically straddles the arrival of Dorothy in Oz, Wicked is a polished and stunningly designed production that never fails to amaze. Even when some of the set pieces and effects are clearly extraneous, they still have to power to fascinate.
If a house landed on you when you were young and you don't know the story, suffice to say that the mean green witch (actual name Elphaba) and Glinda (actual name Galinda) met when students at Shiz University. Pursuing their studies in sorcery, they eventually bond, but are clearly flying their brooms in different directions, career-wise.
Glinda is a ditzy Legally Blonde-ish kind of witch, a fave of everyone who meets her. But she has a good heart and shares her crowd-pleasing knowledge with the sharp-edged Elphaba in the catchy song "Popular."
In that role, Hayley Podschun dutifully mimics the performance markers set down by the original stage Glinda, Kristin Chenoweth. (Hey, this show is a valuable corporate product and like any good corporation, they're looking for consistency.) But Podschun nails her songs with verve and high spirits, and what more can you ask?
Of course, Elphaba is an entirely different sort of enchantress. This is cemented in the show's sterling song, the Act 1 closer "Defying Gravity," in which Elphaba declares her independence in a rush of beautifully scored self-help aphorisms: "Too late for second guessing/Too late to go back to sleep/It's time to trust my instincts/Close my eyes and leap!"
As Elphaba, Jennifer DiNoia sings with power and clarity, and has a nice touch with the comedy lines, bringing Glinda up short with the put-down, "We can't all get around in a bubble."
In supporting roles, Kathy Fitzgerald is a properly horrible Madame Morrible, the head honcho at Shiz, and John Hillner is a poignant goat-man as Doctor Dillamond.
Directed by Joe Mantello, Wicked glides so effortlessly through its scenes you forgive a number of moments when characters seem to act without understandable motivation. But listen, this ain't Death of a Salesman. It's a fun, fast-paced and at times jaw-droppingly gorgeous production.
Plus you get to see how everyone's second scariest childhood memory—the flying monkeys—came to be. Put it all together, and you get plenty of show for your ticket with Wicked.
Through Jan. 5, State Theatre, 1518 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000,
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