Extend due respect to Wicked’s predecessors and coming successors at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, plus its brethren on the Strip. Concede, however, that the Great White Way didn’t wind through Las Vegas—symbolically, that is—until the broccoli-tinted sorceress landed her broomstick at McCarran.
Sellout? Nope. Or in box-office lingo: “Great seats still available!” (Smith Center prez Myron Martin claims the deal with Wicked producers prevents disclosure of ticket sales.)
Thumbnail review? Wicked isn’t a great musical, but a very good one, a rainbow balloon an audience (especially kids) can play with, full of magic, humor, fantasy and poignancy. In the leads, Nicole Parker as misunderstood “wicked” witch Elphaba and Patti Murin as flighty “good” witch Galinda are ingratiating performers who mine all the humanity from the material. (Daytime TV fans can marvel at the grandly entertaining antics of soap diva Kim Zimmer as Madame Morrible.)
More importantly: Wicked addresses our unique, cultural inferiority complex. Ironically, though the Strip’s Broadway presence outstrips other cities—where performing arts centers are the only outlets for short runs—our “Vegas, baby!” vibe throws more hurdles in our path to cultural legitimacy in the world’s eyes. Neither Kansas City nor Minneapolis is a theater metropolis, for example. Yet there’s more perceived dignity when the arts visit someplace a British blueblood doesn’t choose for a night of nude billiards, particularly when there’s no cultural headquarters to balance the debauchery.
Judged independent of that, Strip musicals exist in a milieu that, though electric, still subtracts from the special experiences they are on Broadway or on tours. Jersey Boys is enormously entertaining at Paris Las Vegas, but entering and emerging into a casino cacophony is a blunt reminder that Broadway and the Strip is an amiable shotgun marriage.
Nearly half a billion public and private dollars bought us a corrective—a neon-free culture palace a world away from the bawdy Strip—and its ultimate expression of that to date is Wicked. More than a musical for us since September 2010, when The Smith Center was still in utero and the show’s booking was announced, Wicked has been the venue’s Wizard of Oz, the all-powerful heart of its schedule and promotional blitz.
When you go, feel that buzz—from the parking-lot throngs to the marbled lushness of the Reynolds Hall lobby to the moment the Emerald City map onstage gives way to a fizzy fantasy world—more potent than its predecessors. Mary Poppins, The Color Purple, Memphis, Million Dollar Quartet and La Cage aux Folles? Mere aperitifs.
Stray tourists might pass through Wicked. However, as the biggest symbol of The Smith Center’s programming thus far, this isn’t one more tourist diversion but a cultural capstone made for us, “Vegas, baby!”-free, no naked royals next door.
Unlike the disappointing man behind the curtain in Oz mythology, Wicked measures up, proving that The Smith Center is a promise kept.
STRIP POSTSCRIPT: Jonesing for partisan hilarity? Lefty comic Bill Maher hits the Orleans Sept. 8-9. Righty comic Dennis Miller follows Oct. 12-13. However, if the Orleans truly wants to mine political comic gold, book Clint Eastwood. Asking price is probably exorbitant, but we’re sure the empty chair comes cheap.
Follow Steve Bornfeld via RSS.