Thursday, February 04, 2016

I went to see Wicked!

Last night, the people of Springfield, Missouri had their first chance to see the musical Wicked without traveling to another city. Which was surprising to me as we haven't even gotten Phantom of the Opera as it was supposedly too complicated for the Juanita K. Hammons Hall to stage.

I—of course—went.

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.


Glenn Ingersoll said...

"Whether they like it or not is up to them."


I suppose that's always the case, though it sounds just a teensy bit like you didn't.

I prefer the stage musical to Maguire's original novel. I liked it. I would see it again. Though high ticket prices are a disincentive.

Mark R Hunter said...

Even if it wasn't perfect, sounds like a great experience.

Anonymous said...

Just to piggy back a few of your thoughts / observations / questions::

The entire show IS supposed to take place within the confines of the Time Dragon Clock. The "fade" from scene to scene is just good cinematic staging :) Eugene Lee designed his first draft of the set design before a script was ever written and was based purely off of the novel and was meant to give them enough flexibility as the show evolved and is heavily influenced by the industrial concepts Lee used for Sweeney Todd in the same theatre.

The Sawhorse is seen in the Broadway staging pulling the cart that delivers Fiyero to Shiz.

Jared said...

@Anonymous, thanks for those tips. I haven't read too much into the creation of the musical. So cool to know my interpretation is actually the creative intent. Yeah, that was like seeing a very cinematic fade live onstage!

I suppose the Sawhorse might be one of those things only in the Broadway version as the touring production I saw just had him in a cart another guy was pulling. I heard the way the broom flies onto the stage during "Defying Gravity" is different as well.

Anonymous said...

I have a question, what is the names of the actors

Jared said...

The production I saw featured Emily Koch as Elphaba, Amanda Jane Cooper as Glinda and Jake Boyd as Fiyero. This was the Second National Tour.

Other roles:
Wayne Schroder as Witch's Father
Kerry Blanchard as Witch's Mother
Tregoney Shepherd as Midwife
Megan Masako Haley as Nessarose
Sam Seferian as Boq
Wendy Worthington as Madame Morrible
Chad Jennings as Doctor Dillamond
Stuart Zagnit as The Wizard
Ben Susak as Chistery

Allison Bailey, Kerry Blanchard, Beka Burnham, Jordan Casanova, Kennedy Caughell, Michael Drolet, Kelli Erdmann, Ryan Patrick Farrell, Anthony Festa, Napoleon W. Gladney, Kali Grinder, Garett Hawe, Wayne Schroder, Tregoney Shepherd, Ben Susak, Travis Taber, Jeremy Thompson, Nyla Watson, Justin Wirick.