'Wicked' Still Wonderful, But Sound Quality Needs A Fix

'Wicked' wonderful run in Hartford continues through Nov. 23

The show: "Wicked" at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford.

What makes it special?: The fourth visit of the popular musical, now in its 11th year on Broadway.

First impressions?: For this return visit to Hartford the question isn't whether the musical is a good one (it's better than good, it's terrific) but whether the production — especially with its two leads and this latest touring cast — holds up after months on the road. The answer is a yes — but. The sound quality — at least on the Thursday night performance —- was way off balance, and many of Winnie Holzman's wonderful words (she penned the crafty script) and Stephen Schwartz' lyrics were only decipherable to the many fans who have memorized the score and have seen the show before.

But otherwise the quality of the production remains high and the performances are solid. Kara Lindsay brings great pipes and her own delicious comic touches to the very popular character of Glinda the good witch. Laurel Harris is both dynamic and grounded (until she takes flight, that is) as Elphaba, the very misunderstood witch from the West.

But how does it hold up in repeated viewings?: Every time I see it I have a new appreciation of the production. The last time I was even more impressed with the delicacy and cleverness of Schwartz' lyrics. The time before that I further admired Holzman's artful crafting of Gregory Maguire's densely packed, richly themed book into a 2 1/2-hour musical (with intermission and time out for tunes).

This time I took in Susan Hilferty's multitude of witty costumes that re-imagined Oz as booth whimsical, kooky but also slightly imposing, too. And after re-reading Maguire's book, I had a deeper regard for Eugene Lee's imaginative industrial complex clockwork design that evoked the many machinations of Oz. It also serves as an apt metaphor for the finely geared show.

Production has fine support with Kathy Fitzgerald (Goodspeed's "Emmet Otter'') as Madame Morrible, Matt Shingledecker as Fiyero, Jenny Fellner as Nessarose, Lee Slobotkin as Boq, and Michael Devriess as Dr. Dillamond. Ensemble still has snap and pizazz as it skillfully morphs from Munchkins to Emerald City citizens to crazy critters of Oz.

Details, details: Orchestra sounds full and strong, but my, the conductor is certainly featured prominently during the love song. It almost looks like a threesome.

Standout moment?: The act one ender still delivers the goosebumps — though much is lost in not being able to understand the words.

Who will like it?: Fans of the original show. Young misunderstood women. Underdogs everywhere.

Who won't?: Wicked wizards. Dorothy. (All she gets is an off-stage whimper.) That bitchy witch from "Into the Woods."

For the kids?: Not too young, but kids starting with upper elementary school will identify the challenges of fitting in and striking out. Smaller fry might be freaked out by those flying monkeys.

Twitter review in 140 characters or less: 'Wicked' remains an evergreen.

Thoughts on leaving the parking lot: The musical couldn't possibly embrace all of Maguire's many themes but on this return visit I found the story's political points — perhaps with the election still fresh in my mind — especially rich. We should always be wary of men behind curtains.

Recommended reading: Gregory Maguire's quartet of "Oz" books: "Wicked," "Son of a Witch," "A Lion Among Men" and "Out of Oz."

The basics: The show will play through Nov. 23 at the 2,800-seat Mortensen Hall through Nov. 23. The show runs two hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission. Information at 860-987-5900 and bushnell.org.

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