This Broadway hit explores the humanity behind the fearsome image of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. Based on Gregory Maguire’s marvelous 1995 novel, the show focuses on ungainly, green-skinned Elphaba (whose name comes from the initials of Chicago author L. Frank Baum, inventor of Oz). As she’s transformed from oddball schoolgirl into a sorceress who must learn the uses of enchantment, Elphaba develops a close relationship with her perky blond schoolmate Galinda, destined to become Oz’s “good witch.” Songwriter Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Pocahontas) and librettist Winnie Holzman (creator of TV’s My So-Called Life) have distilled the novel’s detailed psychological insights into a few simple but resonant themes: the interaction of self-esteem, peer pressure, and sibling rivalry; the need to respect people’s differences; and the importance of standing up against prejudice and injustice. Wicked treats girls’ friendships playfully but respectfully, and this national touring company (to be replaced next month by a mostly local cast) delivers heartfelt, strong-voiced performances. a National touring cast performs through 6/12: Tue 7:30 PM, Wed 2 and 7:30 PM, Thu 7:30 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 2 PM. The show reopens Fri 6/24 with the local cast for an open run. Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, 312-902-1400. $25-$85.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joan Marcus.