Simply put: WICKED has now rightfully joined the pantheon of Broadway standards. For good reason, it will be seen by theater-goers for decades to come. It should not be missed during its current run at the Ohio Theater.

Last night was my second sighting. A year ago, with my daughter Julie, we saw it in Cleveland a few hours after watching LeBron James bury the Chicago Bulls.

WICKED will be around a lot longer than LeBron.

Our first viewing was from the front row, as we were lucky victors in the daily lottery that allows two $25 best-seats-in-the-house. The conductor was a few feet away. We smiled at each other.

On its primal level, the show is an astonishing spectacle. The costuming is lush and brilliant, the stage gorgeous and embracing, the pyrotechnics impressive. Close-up, one can easily be swallowed up just by the fancy footwork. And we were. It was an absolutely terrific first run.

Last night at the Ohio, from much farther away, the staging was still impressive. But second time around is the true test of a work of art. If it's as good or better on the re-visit, it should have legs.

In this case, I must say I was overwhelmed. The music is strong but not generally catchy. WICKED has a story to tell, rather than ditties to sell. This is a narrative put to music, not a string of hit singles.

"Defying Gravity" does make it to another realm. I'll be curious to listen to it apart from the show, just for the music and lyrics. But as the centerpiece of the pageant, at the end of the first act, it brings us a green female lead flying 20 feet above the stage, glistening in spotlights, surrounded by a halo-like fog, belting out a hymn to empowerment. An inspiring and brilliant image, filled as it is with the tale of an isolated, lonely woman overcoming her core obstacles, the number cut straight to the soul.

The show as a whole is a duet between a blonde ditz and a green outcast---or so it seems. On the surface, it's an exceedingly clever evocation of the Wizard of Oz, based loosely on a popular book, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST, by Gregory MaGuire. First time around, the basic plot, which is often quite ingenious, merges brilliantly with the special effects to make for an easy, exciting ride.

But upon further review, what matters more is the depth of the writing. There is much in here with which to empathize and to explore. The lyric is often compelling and deep. The characters---all revolving around the two leads---are compelling and complex, flawed and angst-ridden, but each of them worthy of our full attention. Galinda, the blonde, begins paper thin. Silly and shallow to start, we know she's like her other polar opposite, the green "onion-boy" ogre Shrek, who definitely could not sing. Here the layers are well-sung, and it's a pleasure to watch and listen as they peel away through a three-hour show.

The success of the character depends of course on the calibre of the actor. Both we saw---here it was Chandra Lee Schwartz---were superb. No review I've seen has panned any of the leads. Somebody in the Wicked organization is doing quality control.

Likewise Elphaba, the green witch in training. Her name's derived from the initials of L. Frank Baum, the author of WIZARD OF OZ. But her soul is a sight to behold. Powerfully played here by Jackie Burns, she treats us to the painful and convincing transformation of a desperately unhappy deformed girl into a powerful, defiant sorceress of great substance and impact.

And substance it is that will carry the show into the long term. Listening to the dialog this time, I was entranced by a nimble, politically astute flow of worthwhile prose. Time after time startling turns of phrase and quality of insight turned what could have been a long, shallow spectacle into worthwhile literature.

This one I'll see again, and take the time to read the stage script, and perhaps even the book on which it's based.

Inevitably the show has generated its own nay-sayers. But this is no Disney knock-off. There is something of deep and graceful substance here. As long as Team Wicked can find women powerful and savvy enough to play these two leads the way they need to be played, this show will be worth seeing again and again.

One local footnote: the Ohio Theater remains a critical performer of its own. I have yet to see a more beautiful theater---certainly there's none in Cleveland. To watch the elaborately staged WICKED surrounded by the grandeur of this unique hall greatly adds to the pleasure of the evening.

WICKED is here until August 29. Don't miss it. Then, if you're impressed, see it a second time. You might, as I did, like it even better.

HARVEY WASSERMAN'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES ( talks about the Populist Movement, from which the Wizard of Oz originated.