Wonderful ‘Wicked’ shows another side of Oz

Courtesy PhotoCliffton Hall plays Fiyero and Dee Roscioli is Elphaba in the touring production of “Wicked” at the Orpheum Theatre.

Courtesy PhotoCliffton Hall plays Fiyero and Dee Roscioli is Elphaba in the touring production of “Wicked” at the Orpheum Theatre.

“Wicked” is as touching and thrilling as ever in San Francisco.

Back onstage in San Francisco (where it had its successful pre-Broadway premiere in 2003), the smash musical is in town for a limited run and tickets are selling quickly — for very good reason.

The show is for those who loved the movie “The Wizard of Oz” — and isn’t that everyone?

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By expanding on, and artfully drawing from, one of the 20th century’s most iconic popular entertainments, “Wicked” in concept has built-in appeal. But the fact that the production builds so well on, and goes so deep into the psyches of, its beloved characters is what gives it sentiment and soul.

But it’s also full of magic, sparkle and flash.

The people responsible for the words, and plot, of “Wicked” are brilliant. Composer Stephen Schwartz and book writer Winnie Holzman have created a wonderful, heartfelt, funny story based on Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” a prequel to L. Frank Baum’s 1900 “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” on which the famed 1939 film is based.

“Wicked” describes what happened in Oz before the good and bad witches’ fates cross with Dorothy and the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion.

Elphaba (later known as the Wicked Witch of the West) wasn’t always the cackling meanie so effectively ingrained on the world in Margaret Hamilton’s performance in the movie.

Dee Roscioli plays Elphaba with incredible heart, showing with both subtle and all-out emotion how the slighted girl born with green skin is simply misunderstood. She’s a great everywoman.

Glinda wasn’t always so sappy, either. The pretty, popular girl has sass and compassion. On opening night, understudy Cassie Okenka (filling in for Patti Murin) played her with the perfect, sweet touch of humor.

Even their shared love interest, Fiyero (fine-voiced Cliffton Hall), has appealing shades of character.

Kim Zimmer (best known as Reva from TV’s “Guiding Light”) and understudy Kevin McMahon round out the cast as Madame Morrible and the Wizard of Oz, whose PR skills wind up playing a huge part in how the witches’ stories go down.

Enchanting costumes by Susan Hilferty and sets by Eugene Lee capture the beauty, whimsy, fear and drama of Oz, much in the same way the classic movie still does.

If it hasn’t already, “Wicked” (which is under development for a 2014 movie, not to be confused with “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” a fantasy film slated for release in March) surely will take its place in history as the perfect counterpart to one of the most famous films of all.

lkatz@sfexaminer.com

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