SALT LAKE CITY - Some things really do live up to the hype.
I've heard nothing but good things about "Wicked," the Broadway musical that imagines a complicated, conflicted past for the Wicked Witch of the West, for the last decade. I told myself it was exaggeration driven by cultural momentum, with popularity giving the show a mythic gloss it could never have achieved on its own. It was a perfectly lovely play, I was sure, but there was no way it could be quite as magical as everyone described.
I was wrong.
The Broadway Across America tour of "Wicked," which is at Salt Lake's Capitol Theatre now through Aug. 24, is an absolute musical and visual delight from beginning to end. The story is hilarious and surprisingly heartbreaking, and the actors bring it to life with such charm, passion and talent you'll forget they're not really their characters. The songs are fantastic, memorable and gorgeously sung, particularly by Emma Hunton as Elpheba and Gina Beck as Glinda. It's everything everyone's always claimed it to be.
The musical touches on the tragic backstory of the Wicked Witch of the West, here called Elpheba, before sending her off to college with a handicapped sister. It's here where she meets Glinda the "good" witch, a young magic user with far more popularity and far less talent. The two find themselves plunged into the darker side of Oz's politics as they discover the truth not only about the Wizard, but about themselves.
Hunton is wonderful as Elpheba, perfectly balancing the character's anger, self-recrimination and righteousness in a way that both highlights her bravery and makes it clear where she goes wrong. Beck has the slightly more complicated character as Glinda, beautifully emphasizing both the good heart and the need to fit in with both humor and pathos. The actresses' voices are very different, but both are exquisite.
In the supporting cast, Nick Adams subtly but deftly captures the burgeoning courage beneath the shallow charm of Fiyero. Tim Kazurinsky is actually chilling as the Wizard, making him so pleasant and charming that the things he does become that much more appalling.
Together, they made me laugh. They made me cry. And when I left the theater, I had stars in my eyes.
In short, it was magic.