Tuesday, January 21, 2014
"Wicked" on Broadway, 10 years strong, a lot about witch hunts
Sunday afternoon, I attended a performance of the Broadway musical “Wicked” at the huge, emerald-decked Gershwin Theater on 51st St near 8th Avenue in New York City. It strikes me how the midtown area is still always hopping. And that a show like this can charge $150 or so a seat and come close to selling out almost every show for 10 years, as this musical (with lyrics and music by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman) has run since 2003. The musical is based on a fantasy novel, “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West” by Gregory Maguire (1995). That book is a parallel (or “mashup”) of the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz” (which I saw on TV once about ten years ago, but did not see the 3-D reshot) which itself comes from the 1900 short story “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by Frank Baum.
The show is actually produced by (and largely legally owned by) Universal Pictures, a large Hollywood movie studio connected to NBC and Comcast (I’m not sure of the recent mergers and spinoffs). I wasn’t aware that Hollywood had been buying interest in Broadway. The film version of this musical is due from Universal in 2016. (I can think of another legal sidelight: if telecomm companies can own movie studios and Broadway productions, does this make them “content providers”, potentially on the hook despite Section 230 after all? Good question to explore strategically.) Other production credits go to Marc Platt, the Araca Group, Jon B. Platt, and David Stone. The somewhat tinny and light orchestra was conducted by Bryan Perri.
Probably everybody knows that the story concerns the “witches’ side” of the now classic Wizard of Oz tale. (See also my movie review of “Oz: The Great and Powerful”, Movies blog, March 17, 2013.) The details, as on Wikipedia, are complicated. The “wicked witch” was the green skinned Elphaba (Lindsay Mendez) who had taken care of a disabled sister. Galinda (Alli Mauzey), popular but naïve, descends into the kingdom as the show opens, singing “No one mourns the wicked”. Soon, the princely Fiyero (Kyle Dean Massey) comes into the story as the witch’s love. (I wondered if Kyle has any relation to actor Chandler Massey, who until recently had played Will Horton in “Days of our Lives”.)
The show is long (about three hours with intermission) and the first half runs something like 100 minutes. But it really gets going with the social issues about half way through, as a professor says that animals are no longer allowed to teach in Oz, or Shiz. A leopard or some large cat is put in a cage, and the argument is proposed that animals benefit from being “protected” by zoo enclosures. I think there was a line referring to Orwell (time to mention, I did Michael Radford’s “1984” film that year in Dallas). In the second half, there is a song “March of the Witch Hunters”. It isn’t hard to imagine this as applying to the past attitude of society to gay people, or, specifically until the 2011 repeal, the “witch-hunts” that had often happened chasing gays in the military. (While I recall applicable films, "The Witches of Eastwick" and Jack Nicholson's B.O. come to mind.)
The music comes to a better-calculated climax at the end of the first half, where Elphaba flies up into the sky, singing “Defying Gravity”. Is the “witch” really a female Clark Kent? Can woman fly? (You expect a Lex-like character to pose the question directly.) Really, she sometimes wants to be “normal” (like Clark in “Smallville”) and Fiyero seems to appreciate that. (If I were a hidden E.T. with powers, I’d be grateful for them, and deploy them clandestinely.) The ending of the entire show is quite abrupt, given its length and complexity. I wonder how much Broadway should be compared to opera – and the answer is not much unless the music comes from a composer in both worlds, like George Gershwin or particularly Leonard Bernstein. (Let me mention, I saw “Candide” at the Arena Theater in 1995 in Washington; less overwhelming than the London performance on CD, where the final stirring climax is well prepared.)
The official site for the North American tour is here.
Check to the tour. And watch for the movie.
The theater had garish “machinery” as décor at all levels (rather like the old Lionsgate logo for horror films). And it was decked in green light. There plenty of memorabilia at the theater for sale, and the geography of Oz is interesting (there’s a map on a curtain on the stage before the show). The T-shirts vary; one version has the word “Wicked” broken into three lines.
“Some things I cannot change.” Then, “You are not as powerful as you think you are.” Then, “Come with me.” (Clark says that to Lana at the end of Season 2 of “Smallville”). “Everyone deserves to fly.”