For the third visit to Baltimore's Hippodrome, the enormously successful musical "Wicked" delivers the goods. The uninitiated should have no trouble figuring out what all the fuss is about; longtime fans should find enough freshness to make another encounter worthwhile.
Alyssa Fox could use a dash more personality and vocal richness as Elphaba, the future Wicked Witch of the West, but she commands the stage nonetheless. As Glinda, Carrie St. Louis is a decidedly vibrant actress and singer, bringing out the character's "Legally Blonde"-like snap with particular flair.
Show biz veteran John Davidson makes a terrific, multilayered Wizard. If his articulation slips during vocal numbers, there is abundant color and style in the phrasing.
There are standout contributions from Lee Slobotkin as a sympathetic Boq and Michael Devries as an equally sympathetic Doctor Dillamond. Kristine Zbornik sweeps through the role of Madame Morrible deftly. And, some vocal strain aside, Ashley Parker Angel fills out the role of Ozian heartthrob Fiyero in style.
The brilliant stagecraft and costuming are still big draws; no show delivers more continual engagement for the eyes (the scene of the witch's melting remains a letdown, though).
For the most part, Winnie Holzman's book still shines. And it's fun hearing Stephen Schwartz's almost always clever music and lyrics again; the tri-syllabic reiterations — "popular," "wonderful," "happier," etc. — that dot the score continue to deliver extra delight.
It's a bit heretical, not to mention pointless, to suggest that "Wicked" could use a little trimming (Act 1 feels especially overloaded) and some stronger focus here and there.
The chilling issues that pop up during Doctor Dillamond's scenes, for example, with all those ever-relevant allusions to fascist threats, are never developed fully. The show has a way of raising dark thoughts, only to toss in another joke line, another song.
But the entertainment value of "Wicked" remains formidable and, from all indications, will continue to grab audiences for a long time to come.