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Girl gangs invade the Gershwin.

The adolescent girls who turned out for "Wicked" at the Wednesday matinee Easter Week did not outnumber adults in the audience, but it sure felt that way. All those bare knees and backpacks, all that high-pitched giggling and jumping-jack vitality turned the Gershwin Theater into a pep rally and sent waves of energy to the stage.

What, exactly, is the draw of this show--and how did it bring out all this grrrl power?

The range of answers is truly bewitching: "It's the singing and dancing" ... "Don't be stupid--it's the incredible clothes, I mean costumes" ... "My morn wants me to see the witches" ... "My morn made me take my sister" ... "I heard she flies"...

One of the things you've got to remember about teenage girls is that they travel in packs and they all talk at once. Sorting out the pre-show cacophony outside the theater; it seems to boil down to this: Parents want to return to the magical kingdom of Oz that enchanted them as children, while their daughters want to watch the most unpopular girl in school turn the tables on her tormenters.

Some of these young minds, of course, will always contradict observations and confound assumptions.

Standing by for tickets, 15-year-old Chelsea and her 17-year-old sister; Nicole, were studying the show posters with their mother, who had taken the girls up from Fort Lauderdale as a treat. Nodding at Joel Grey's Wizard photo, one of them asked. "Isn't that Jennifer Grey's father?" Their" mother actually blushed.

"They're really looking forward to the show, aren't you, girls?"

Chelsea nodded. "You get to hear the background of the two witches, and the wicked witch isn't really wicked."

"Well, actually, she is wicked," corrected Nicole, who is going to Barnard in the fall. "But there's always a root of evil and you've got to find that root."

Chelsea gave that some thought. "So, this must be the battle between good and evil."

A quick and totally unscientific survey of the various school groups roaming the upper lobby yielded the following info: "Wicked" is a popular choice among schoolteachers and club administrators.

"Our music teacher picked it," said Lindsey, a 12-year-old from Fairfield Woods Middle School in Connecticut. "But I wanted to see it," she added, "because I heard it was great."

Now that they have seen the first act, what do the girls think about the show? A slim, fashionable morn wanted to know the same thing. "So, did you get all that propaganda?" she quizzed her shy 10-year-old.

The child replied, "Well, she was wicked ... but everybody made her wicked."

The room looked smug. "Yes, you got it," she said. The child looked relieved.

Going up the escalator for the second act, 11-year-old Erika and her 13-year-old sister, Cara, from Short Hills, N.J., were having a serious discussion. "She's a good person, she's following her dream," Erika said.

"Yeah, but she's gonna get into more trouble," said Cara.

"Why?"

"Because she's wicked."

"People made her wicked!"

"She's still gonna get in trouble."

One more thing about girls: They really love to talk about clothes. It seemed the young crowd at the Gershwin all wanted to live in Oz so they could go off to school in audacious green costumes. And they had other things to say about the show.

"I never really liked 'The Wizard of Oz,'" said 17-year-old Melissa from Randolph, N.J. "I found that movie disturbing."

"She never got over it," her mother confirmed, "but now that she's seen this show, she really likes the Wizard."

"Yeah," Melissa said, "but I'd rather be the wicked witch."

"Not me," muttered a cheerleader-type.

"Why not?" her mother wanted to know. "You said you loved that she could fly."

"Yeah, I liked that, but I can't identify with her," said the girl.

"Why not?" asked Mom.

"Because she's not popular."

Oh, well. Not everyone got the message.
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Title Annotation:Profile in excellence: Wicked
Author:Stasio, Marilyn
Publication:Variety
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Apr 26, 2004
Words:648
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