Wicked Celebrates 15 Years With Anniversary Concert Featuring Ariana Grande
Original stars Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel reunite to host the NBC television event.
A Very Wicked Halloween opens with a montage of clips proving how much this musical has infiltrated the culture. An answer on Jeopardy! leads into a scene from South Park. Amy Adams and Kristen Wiig sing "What Is This Feeling?" on Saturday Night Live. A group of tailgaters, led by Billy Eichner in an emerald green sports jersey, get dunked in green Gatorade.
Over the course of more than 6,200 performances, Wicked has transcended all boundaries. It got bad reviews and lost the Tony for Best Musical to Avenue Q, but thanks to its inspirational themes, it hasn't only become a worldwide smash, but a genuine phenomenon. It's enough of an entertainment industry mainstay that NBC has created this hour-long primetime special in celebration of its 15th anniversary.
Hosted by Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel, the original Glinda and Tony-winning Elphaba, A Very Wicked Halloween is a big, expensive concert. It has newly filmed footage from the Broadway show (currently led by Amanda Jane Cooper and Jessica Vosk), as well as performances by artists that young theater geeks go gaga for: Ariana Grande, Pentatonix, Adam Lambert. It's a fun, harmless night that's sure to earn viewers, though some choices are as askew as Chenoweth and Menzel's original billing, which is replicated here onscreen.
Fortunately, the good outweighs the bad. Chenoweth sings "Popular." It sounds exactly as it does on the cast album, and she really knows how to play to the screaming crowd. She takes selfies with them during the song and gets carried through the audience by a guy dressed as Fiyero. Pink confetti rains on everyone. It is a perfect performance — made even more perfect by the sheer level of ebullience she displays as host. Chenoweth is just a delight.
Pentatonix players Kirstin Maldonado and Mitch Grassi do very well by "What Is This Feeling?," with Maldonado as Elphaba and Grassi as Glinda, though the choice to back this talented five-member a cappella group known for beatboxing and vocal percussion with a full orchestra is a strange one. Best of all is Ariana Grande, whose soaring "The Wizard and I" is full of emotion, and probably an audition for future casting.
Disappointingly, Menzel is the polar opposite. She seems strangely disconnected from the proceedings, trying a little too hard to be enthusiastic. She brings down the house with a pop version of "Defying Gravity," of course, even though her vocal performance is less than stellar (that doesn't bother anyone in the audience — it's Idina Menzel singing "Defying Gravity"). A duet between recording artist Adam Lambert (a former Fiyero understudy) and Ledisi of the soaring ballad "As Long as You're Mine" displays a similarly mechanical feeling.
Strangest of all is what the concert leaves out. There's scant reference to characters beyond Glinda and Elphaba. They don't mention the designers who originally built the show or associates who've kept it going across the world. They don't even mention that Wicked has a book writer until the very end (shout out to Winnie Holzman!). These choices are baffling, if only because theater isn't a solo effort. It's about groups of people coming together during the creative process, and Wicked is no different. In a tribute such as this one, it would have been nice to see the full assortment of artists get their well-deserved due…not just the popular ones.