The world of “Wicked” has elements we know. A girl with a different skin color is ostracized for who she is. An increasingly tyrannical government cracks down on animals, spreads lies and uses spies to control a desperate population.
In its return engagement to Minneapolis, “Wicked” is still richly entertaining. The themes and puns in Stephen Schwartz’s blockbuster musical, which Winnie Holzman elegantly adapted from Gregory Maguire’s novel, light up contemporary issues like fairy dust.
While Joe Mantello’s production is competent and fun — there is a lot of wit and joy to be had at “Wicked” — Thursday’s opening night performance at the Orpheum Theatre was not as fully electric as in engagements past.
That may be due to the fact that there were a couple of confused patches where the orchestra and the singers seemed to be struggling.
Also, the chemistry was not always there between green-skinned Elphaba (Alison Luff) and her vain blonde nemesis, Glinda (Jenn Gambatese). Their antagonistic friendship is the fulcrum on which this prequel to “The Wizard of Oz” is built. When that is not right, the whole show can sag.
Luff, who has the harder of the two roles, was not always consistent in her performance. She brought the house down on “I’m Not That Girl,” a song about not being the pretty girl. But her lackluster delivery of the show’s signature song, “Defying Gravity,” made the number feel anticlimactic.
Gambatese was fully there as the flake, Glinda. She has a battery of expressive gestures that accentuate her vacuity. And she sings with a faux relish that is apt for a popularity-craving character who wants to keep everything light.
The cast includes a nasal John Davidson as The Wizard. He, too, seemed out of sorts at times although he really proved to be a good match on his signature song, “Wonderful.” And Kim Zimmer was full of vinegar as Madame Morrible (rhymes with horrible), the university headmistress with the power to change the weather.
Still, “Wicked” is a juggernaut of story, music and design, including Kenneth Posner’s spectacular lighting and Susan Hilferty’s tacky-chic ball costumes. Its clever puns, especially those that relate to “The Wizard of Oz,” are delightful. In fact, you could argue that it so neatly explains “The Wizard of Oz,” it’s like a therapeutic New Age musical.
One leaves the theater saying, ahh, now I get it.