Wicked – An Honest Review
(From April 2009 – I’m off to teach 7th graders about Henry VIII today)
So last night I went to see Wicked. I have never seen it before, never saw the preview or listened to the soundtrack. I was intrigued when the musical first came out as I had read the book first. The Gregory Macguire book is a complex study in the back story of the witches of Oz. It gives a great deal of detail that can never be translated into a 3 hour show. So I ignore the more glaring issues such as the changed occupation of Elphaba’s father, how his mistreatment of her was fabricated, the omission of the murder of Dr. Dillamont and Madame Morrible and the most glaring, the complete changing of Fiyero’s character making him a spoiled Prince of means rather than another odd ball outsider like Elphaba.
So taking this into account I decided to judge it based on the new format, like a new story. This is The Tudors, basically the same story with modifications to fit the medium and fit the story line.
The first act fell a bit flat and was disappointing. The majority of the issues I had were with the writing rather than the acting. I realize not everyone can be Andrew Lloyd Webber. What makes Webber a genius is his ability to move the story forward through the songs. The songs in this show not only do not move the story forward, they mostly lack emotional impact and the ability to implant themselves in our psyche. No song in this show has the impact of “The Music of the Night” from The Phantom of the Opera, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar, “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from Evita or even “Memory” from Cats.
This lack of emotional follow through is detrimental to the structure of the show. In removing the traces of lesbianism that is prevalent in the book, the actors have little material to show any kind of emotional bridge that connects these women and transforms their relationship from dislike into friendship. The transitions are disconnected. The only truly impressive staging point in the first act was Elphaba discovering her power and flying above the stage.
Act Two improved greatly and really moved the story along. This is what redeemed the show for me. It was almost like the writers struggled so much with the flaws of the first act that they put all their energy into the second. While the ending of the story is different and more uplifting than the book, it is satisfying, humorous and bright.
The actor playing Elphaba, while an alternate, was amazingly good. She was also the switch in for the Chicago and Los Angeles tours. Her role carries the show and she is more than up to the task. Her voice is amazing and she works the emotional angles better than anyone in the show. Watching her is worth the cost of the ticket.
Their Glinda was average. Her character was too manic, too disjointed and too disconnected. I didn’t care about Glinda at all, in fact I found her annoying. While her character is suppose to be spoiled and self-centered – she grows into a more serious version of herself because of her friendship with Elphaba, her feelings about her “abandonment” by Elphaba and the death of Dr. Dillamond. She should display an almost Texas cheerleader type spunk and shallow social climber persona that grows into a more complete woman. This actor relied too heavily on the physical hyperactive movements and choppy transitions. There were times I just wanted to nail her feet to the floor.
The changes they made to Nessa Rose were less jarring, making her wheelchair bound instead of armless. I still think they could have done it but it worked. In the small stage time she has, they had her “wickedness” manifest through her obsession and virtual enslavement of Bock. It would have been nice to expand on this and explore this but the story is about the Wicked Witch of the West and not of the East.
On the whole, it was a nice show, great production values and costumes and an incredible leading lady. It isn’t Phantom or Evita but then, what is these days? I really feel that the kids that worship this show so much should watch Patty Lupone in Evita to understand what a real musical is. I give it a solid B+ based on its rousing second act.