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Posted: October 25, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Something Wicked this way comes

The first time I saw "The Wizard of Oz," I was about 4 years old and I remember my mother warning me beforehand about the scariness of the Wicked Witch of the West and how she herself had been terrified of the witch when she first saw the movie as a young girl.

When it came time to watch the movie, all of the hype about the witch had me so terrified that when her theme music came on (you know the music I’m talking about), I ran into the kitchen to hide. I don’t think I was actually brave enough to watch the whole film until I was about 7.

Knowing just that the play "Wicked" was a reinterpretation of the wicked witch as a misunderstood political activist before going to see it, I had some skepticism that this caricature of human evil incarnate could ever be rendered sympathetic. But by the end of Thursday’s performance at the Fox Theatre, I was not only not terrified of the witch, but actually found myself rooting for her and rooting against the Wizard of Oz and his brainwashed sycophantic minions.

"Wicked" is definitely one of the best shows I have ever been to. The story is an enjoyable twist on an American classic. Set before the events of "The Wizard of Oz," the play begins at Shiz University in Oz, where both Elphaba (who later becomes the Wicked Witch of the West) and Glinda are students. Glinda is blond, beautiful and ambitious and Elphaba is well, green. Naturally the two hate each other. Over time, though, their "unadulterated loathing" turns to friendship and the girls journey together to the Emerald City to meet the Wizard and make their fortune.

It’s in the Emerald City that Elphaba and Glinda’s paths diverge permanently. Elphaba, unable to stomach the moral cost of becoming the Wizard’s protégé instead becomes a political radical while Glinda decides to stay with the Wizard and becomes Glinda the Good.

The heart of the play is the frenemy relationship between Elphaba and Glinda. By going back to their teenage years where both future witches are still trying to figure out who they want to become and are still forming their moral views of the world, the audience’s perception of these two famous characters is both altered and enriched.

"Wicked" has just the right mix of escapism and political undercurrents. The singing is great (as I write this, I am listening to the soundtrack, which I borrowed from my co-worker), the costumes are fabulous and the acting is thoroughly enjoyable. Katie Rose Clarke is comedic gold in her portrayal of Glinda. Carmen Cusack’s Elphaba is both haughty and sympathetic.

Based on the 1995 best-selling novel by Gregory Maguire, "Wicked" enjoyed enormous success on Broadway when it first opened in 2003. Its national tour has gone on to even greater success. Returning to Atlanta for the second time "Wicked" will be showing at the Fox Theatre until Nov. 2.

Performances are at 8 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Prices vary in range depending on performance, seat location and date of purchase and start at $31. Tickets can be purchased online at www.ticketmaster.com or by phone at (404) 817-8700.

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