15 November 2007

The Wonderful Witches of Oz

Last night was Chicago’s 1000th performance of Wicked, the musical based on Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Yesterday was also the date of the public sale for a new block of tickets from January 27 – April 27, 2008. Despite the fact that it has what may be the WORST advertising slogan ever (“The longer you wait, the longer you’ll wait to see WICKED!” What the hell does that even mean?), Wicked is absolutely worth the (rather hefty) ticket price.

I was lucky enough to see the 888th performance (or so, it was back in August) of this show, and it was amazing. I looooooooooved it. I have been a musical theatre nerd ever since I saw the local high school’s production of My Fair Lady and thought to myself, I want to do that. How do I do that? The next Monday, I dropped a study hall and signed up for choir. I was twelve. My musical theatre nerd-dom spans a decade and a half, and involves performances in such high school standards as Little Shop of Horrors, Anything Goes, The Music Man etc etc. I even went to music camp and majored in musical theatre. Nerdy but true.

I’ve seen a ton of shows – in London, in New York, Toronto… um, Albuquerque – and Wicked was the best. The best. The musical is simpler and less political than the book, but I actually think I liked it better (I’m a sucker for a happy ending).

Wicked tells the story of the witches of Oz, characters we all know from The Wizard of Oz: the Good Witch of the North, Glinda; the Wicked Witch of the East (in the movie, the one underneath the house); and of course, the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba. It challenges the assumptions you’ve held about the mean witch and her flying monkeys; it calls into question labels and the simple dichotomy of good and evil.

What’s most wonderful about Wicked is that it is a story about two girls, and how their unlikely friendship changes each of them. “So much of me is made of what I learned from you… and now whatever way our stories end, I know you have re-written mine, by being my friend.” How many Broadway musicals are about friendship between girls? There are musicals about war (Les Mis, Miss Saigon), orphans (Annie, Once on This Island), buddies (The Producers), love (every musical ever), but girls? BFFs? I can’t think of any.

Of course, there’s a love story in Wicked, and part of the appeal is the clever re-telling of a familiar and beloved story (though I must say that I personally do not like The Wizard of Oz and never have – but I still love Wicked), primarily this is a story about two strong women and the friendship that binds them as they each try to follow their own paths and do what they believe is right. It’s about growing up, about finding your way in the world, about shifting beliefs and listening to your own voice when the rest of the world is telling you something else. It’s about destiny and truth and labels. It’s about popular girls and nerd girls. It’s about sisters and magic, power and politics and flying monkeys. It’s about BFFs.

You can never have too many stories about BFFs.

If you have the chance to see this show, DO. Stephen Schwartz’s music is complex and beautiful. He pays subtle tribute to the movie by using the iconic first seven notes of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as one of the musical’s dominant themes, though he disguises them by changing the rhythm. The costumes are strange and wonderful; the puppetry is awesome. And the BFF story might just make you cry.

You can’t deny it: the longer you wait, the longer you’ll wait to see Wicked. Let’s hope it’s not too long.


Natalie said...

Thanks to Rory for buying those hefty tickets...

Rory Cobb said...

MAN that's a GOOD SHOW!
MAN, that's a TERRIBLE SLOGAN! (made worse by the thought that somebody got paid for it...)
...but that is one of the best shows in years...