Nicole Parker in Wicked
(Courtesy of the company)
Nicole Parker in Wicked
(Courtesy of the company)
The unbelievable has happened. Las Vegas, probably best known for its gambling establishments, strip clubs and Elvis impersonators galore, has finally taken a giant leap in its cultural programming! After 32 months, 1.5 million man hours, and a $150 million donation, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts is now importing Broadway shows, including the national tour of the megahit Wicked.

When you first walk into the stately limestone building, you're struck by its formal elegance. You aren't coming simply to see a show -- you're there for the experience, which includes a ground-level shopping area where you can buy show memorabilia, and a mezzanine area-lounge where you can purchase gourmet sandwiches, snacks, and drinks (including of the alcoholic variety). The people-watching is spectacular, and if you can sneak a peek into the swanky Founders Lounge, you can spot the facility's big donors getting to hobnob with each other.

As for Wicked, the show itself has been pulled off with dazzling showmanship, and made even better by the Center's acoustics, which allow you to enjoy the sound from orchestra level to the comfort of any of the 23 box seats, all the way up into the rafters. The set design inspires the imagination, and the special effects, most notably the sprouting of wings on the monkeys, do not disappoint.

But the true joy of the show, with its score by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holtzman (adapted from Gregory Maguire's best-selling novel), has to be the exceptional cast, some of whom are newcomers to the production. Nicole Parker tugs at your heartstrings with her powerful performance as the "unpopular" Elphaba, showing it still ain't easy being green. She brings the house down at the end of the first act with the showtopping number, "Defying Gravity."

As the glamorous yin to Parker's dowdy yang, Patti Murin proves more than capable. Her perky personality provides many laughs, helping to offset some of the more serious undertones of the musical.

Tom McGowan's interpretation of The Wizard is at times scary and heartbreaking as he draws the audience (and Elphaba) under his spell. Clifton Davis is truly tragic as Dr. Dillamond. Moreover, his chemistry with Parker's Elphaba is endearing and serves to show the humanity in two "creatures" that are considered to be outcasts to the denizens of Oz.

But the great surprise of the evening was the work of daytime television legend Kim Zimmer -- who dazzled soap fans as Guiding Light's Reva Shayne for over 25 years -- as Madame Morrible. Zimmer's bawdy and brash performance consistently commands our attention, and her singing voice is top-notch.

All in all, this terrific production of Wicked should bring some much needed attention to Las Vegas' newest star attraction: The Smith Center.