Thursday, October 30, 2008

When something Wicked came my way

Five years ago today, on Oct. 30, 2003, Wicked opened on Broadway, at the Gershwin Theatre. Variety offers a good look back at the show's phenomenal success on Broadway and around the world. After 2,065 performances, so many words have been written about this immensely popular musical. But hey, always room for a few more, right?

I have to admit, I was only vaguely aware of Wicked a couple of years ago, when I found Steve on Broadway's blog. Looking through his archive of posts, in December 2006, I realized that he mentioned the musical quite a lot. In the midst of a very lengthy and memorable e-mail exchange, he told me how big a fan he was of the show, and he called it captivating. I didn't know it at the time, but Wicked holds special meaning for Steve and the love of his life.

I don't know if it was a coincidence or the planets aligning or it was simply meant to be, but the touring production of Wicked was making a stop in Providence the very next month. Steve's enthusiasm convinced me to buy a ticket. (And he assured me that those scary flying monkeys from the movie only fly out over the audience in the Broadway production. Whew! That was a big relief.)

The last time I'd been to the theatre was the previous fall, when I saw Hamlet. And before that, it had been nearly a decade, when I saw Fiddler on the Roof in Israel. So I hiked up to my seat in the mezzanine at the Providence Performing Arts Center giddy with anticipation.

And Wicked lived up to the advance billing. From the very beginning, when the dragon's head above the stage comes alive, its mouth opening wide and its eyes turning a fiery red, Wicked captivated me, too.

I loved all of the subtle and not-so-subtle references to The Wizard of Oz, the way many of the memorable lines from the movie are worked into the dialog. (As well as a hilarious shoutout to Evita.)

I loved the way Wicked filled in the back story of a classic and beloved movie with so much cleverness and wit. I mean, I really had no idea that it would be so funny. So that's how the Tin Man and the Scarecrow got to be that way. Who knew?

It cracks me up when I think of Glinda looking at the yellow brick road and saying "I hope they find it. I'm really bad at directions." I felt some of the same sense of amazement that I did when I saw the movie as a child. (And those monkeys still creep me out!)

And I thought the way Glinda (nee Galinda) and Elphaba were drawn: the spoiled rich, self-absorbed party girl and the unpopular, cerebral loner who looks different from everyone else, was so inspired. I'd recently watched the movie of The History Boys and I thought, in some ways, Wicked is a more realistic portrayal of adolescence - in all of its pettiness, jealousy and cruelty.

I started crying when I heard "For Good" and it still makes me cry. How awesome is it that the most tender love song in the musical is not about two lovers but about the enduring power of friendship. When I heard that line, "People come into our lives for a reason," of course I thought about the new friend I'd just made. Even though I went alone, I knew I could e-mail my friend all about the experience, and he'd be thrilled to hear from me.

Since seeing Wicked, I've also read Gregory Maguire's novel. And realizing how book writer Winnie Holzman, composer Stephen Schwartz and director Joe Mantello shaped the musical is pretty fascinating. (I think it's a big improvement. The novel, in my opinion, is much less accessible and certainly much darker. Definitely not for children!)

In the past two years I've seen lots of shows: some that engaged me, some that bored me, some that just left me thinking, "Eh." But rarely have I seen anything like
Wicked, which I loved from start to finish. Happy anniversary!


Stella Louise said...

I'm going to finally see this in January! Have you read the book? It's really fabulous.

Anonymous said...

It's here this week, and I'm going to see it! I can hardly wait. I didn't get a ticket last time it toured here, because I'd tried to read the book and couldn't finish it. But a friend subsequently gave me the soundtrack, and I fell in love with the music. I can hardly wait.

Esther said...

Oh you are both so lucky! I hope you like it after my big buildup. Please let me know what you think after you see it.

I did read the book. I have to admit, I'm not a huge fantasy fan and I found the world that Gregory Maguire created a little hard to follow, especially all the religious stuff. I just found it a little confusing. So I can't say I really loved the book. But it was fascinating to read it after seeing the musical just to compare how different they are.

The musical Wicked is much more a tribute to the movie. It's funnier, more clever. In a very general sort of way it keeps the themes of the novel. But I think Winnie Holzman, who adapted the novel for the stage, also drew on her experience portraying adolescents in the tv series Life Goes On.

And Amy, I have to agree, I love the music. I held off listening to the cd until I'd seen the show, so it all came at me totally fresh and new. It was pretty thrilling.

Btw, two documentaries, Show Business: The Road to Broadway; and Broadway: The American Musical both have segments on the creation of Wicked. So if you enjoy the musical, check those out afterward!