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Go green: Get ‘Wicked’ for the holidays

Chandra Lee Schwartz, left, and Jackie Burns in “Wicked” (Photo by Joan-Marcus).

Chandra Lee Schwartz, left, and Jackie Burns in “Wicked” (Photo by Joan-Marcus).

Every time I see “Wicked,” I like it better. And the high-energy touring version that’s back in Chicago Cadillac Palace Theatre has plenty worth liking about it.

With a powerhouse singer in Jackie Burns as Elphaba, the green-tinged Wicked Witch of the West; an effervescent actress in Chandra Lee Schwartz as Glinda; and a perfect ensemble of singers, gymnasts and dancers, this show is worth your holiday time and money.

Burns gives every song her all, and Schwartz practically bubbles over the stage without mechanical aids. Local favorite Barbara Robertson gives us a wonderfully arch Madame Morrible, Gene Weygandt is slick and smooth-voices as the wizard, Richard H. Blake makes a handsome Prince Fiyaro with great moves, and Conductor P. Jason Yarcho literally dances in the orchestra pit in front of an exceptional group of musicians.

One of the rare instances of an adaptation bettering its source material, “Wicked” the musical is far more entertaining than the grim Gregory Maguire novel that inspired it. Maguire postulated a back story for L. Frank Baum’sThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz that cleverly turned the Wicked Witch of the West into the unfortunate victim of a bizarre birth defect, more sinned-against than sinning, but then he took the idea down paths that sucked all the magic out of Oz.

In creating the musical, Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman wisely tossed out much of Maguire’s dark vision and brightened the story and its ending, keeping the edge, but returning the enchantment of Baum’s original novel and the Judy Garland movie. Schwartz’s score has its ups and downs, but the overall package excels, with brilliant dance arrangements by James Lynn Abbott and marvelous, colorful costumes by Susan Hilferty.

Those who saw the long-running versions in Chicago and New York may notice some changes in the set and staging, but nothing important seems missing. If you loved it before, you’ll love it this time around, and if you haven’t seen it, you really should take this opportunity. If you can’t swing orchestra seats, bring your opera glasses.

 

Broadway in Chicago’s ‘Wicked’

Theater: Cadillac Palace Theatre in the Loop.

Through: Jan. 23.

Tickets: $35–162.50.

Dining: Well, the name doesn’t actually refer to flying monkeys, but you can get a burger and a beer at Monk’s Pub on weeknights. Ruby of Siam offers no thematic relevance, though it does have a long menu of Thai specialties.

Deals: Drop by the Palace box office on the day of performance to participate in a daily drawing for front-of-the-house seats at $25.