Thursday, February 04, 2016
I went to see Wicked!
Wicked (sometimes subtitled The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz) is loosely based on Gregory Maguire's Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. That novel offers a dark new take on Oz, re-examining the themes of good and evil through the eyes of the Wicked Witch of the West. Maguire largely built his take on Oz around Baum's original book, but his Wicked Witch is basically MGM's with green skin, flying on a broom, and a penchant for black clothes.
Wicked the musical rebuilds their Oz around the framework of the MGM movie, but just enough to not get sued. The plot is similar enough to some extents: Elphaba had a bad family life and had a disabled sister (Nessarose has no arms in the novel, in the musical, she is unable to walk), Glinda and Elphaba met at school, where they room together, Elphaba takes an interest in the rights of Animals (capital A indicates speech and humanoid sentience), they meet a Winkie prince named Fiyero Tigelaar at school, the girls visit the Emerald City and have an audience with the Wizard and the girls part ways afterward, Elphaba becomes involved with Fiyero, she takes his western castle of Kiamo Ko, the origins of Dorothy's three friends are hinted at (or in some cases, spelled right out), and the events of Baum's famous story occur, though there's more that we didn't see from his perspective.
The alterations make a more light-hearted and simpler story, one that has made the show a hit on Broadway for about thirteen years.
The Time Dragon Clock frames the stage and much of the scenery seems to be set inside the clock. The clock is referred to in dialogue once, but never again. One who has read the novel could interpret this as the clock itself showing the entire story and the cast depicting the puppets who appear inside it to tell its mysterious tales. Given the transformation sequences of the show in which the scenes change while characters from the previous scene who are not supposed to be in next scene are still onstage for a moment, I'd think this is likely supposed to be the case.
Of course, I need to mention the songs. Like any good musical, the tunes are well-done and enhance the story. They most often do not move the story along, however. But one might well find themselves singing songs like, "No One Mourns The Wicked," "Popular," "One Short Day," "Defying Gravity," and "For Good."
The story follows Elphaba and Glinda through school, being accidentally put together as roommates at first, and having a severe loathing of each other until a couple selfish actions from Glinda are misinterpreted by Elphaba as an offer of friendship, which she decides to accept. The girls put their differences aside and become fast friends until they both realize that the government of Oz are favoring human people over Animals and stripping their rights and the Animals are losing their speech. Elphaba and Glinda go to the Emerald City to meet with the Wizard, and once they see him for who he is, their paths split again. The events of Act II show how bad things get as events begin to crossover with the story of The Wizard of Oz, which eventually force Elphaba and Glinda to meet again.
Overall... I liked it. I can't say that I was particularly impressed as I'd seen bootleg videos of the show before, seen the script and heard the songs several times. While I was finally seeing it live properly, most of the action was familiar to me. (And to the girl sitting next to me who didn't turn her phone off or keep it put away, you didn't help.)
Wicked plays well with the theatrical nature of Oz with over the top characters and a lot of good energy and spectacle, even if it's a version of Oz that really should be evaluated on its own rather than seen as a companion to a book or a film. (Despite the creators' claims to not contradict the movie, I find the Wizard's final scene to be pretty incompatible with the film's events.) Fans of Baum's books should keep a careful eye on the stage during "One Short Day" to see a Denslow picture actually reworked into a prop, and a cameo of the Hammerheads. I've heard the Sawhorse makes a cameo, but I failed to spot him.
I found most of the cast to be well-acted, particular Amanda Jane Cooper as Glinda and Jake Boyd as Fiyero. Emily Koch's Elphaba did not have much subtlety or nuance about her, often just sounding angry. However, she was very good in "For Good," "No Good Deed," and "As Long As You're Mine."
Overall, I'd say Wicked is a musical that every Oz fan should see at least once. Whether they like it or not is up to them.