So you thought you knew the real story, didn’t you? But then you hear something that doesn’t quite fit and suddenly, you’re not so sure what really is good and who is actually evil. The only way to find the truth is to look into the past and see behind the scenes. You’ll need to investigate those things you thought you knew so well and find out just what really happened. In that way you can try to find out what really went on and how things actually came to be. This is what the musical “Wicked” is all about, and its playing now in London, New York, Chicago and other cities.
As a premise for a musical, this has got to be one of the more creative new ones on stage today. From beginning to end we are delighted with getting in touch with the third dimension of those characters that only are the supporting cast for this famous book and movie “The Wizard of Oz”. In fact, Dorothy doesn’t even show up here. No, our main characters are Galinda (or Glinda) the Good Witch of the North and the Wicked Witch of the West whose name is Elphaba and we even get to see Nessarose, the Wicked Witch of the East when she’s alive. The story starts out with Glinda addressing Oz after the last wicked witch is dead, but when someone asks her about how she came to know her, we are transported back into the past and that’s when everything starts to be revealed. Clever idea, isn’t it? Well I thought so!
This musical is based on the novel of the same name by Gregory Maguire, which of course is itself based on the first L. Frank Baum book. Aside from this look “behind the curtain”, what makes this more special is that included here are messages of social significance. One of those messages is that we shouldn’t take things at face value and things aren’t always as they seem to be. The book here by Winnie Holzman just sparkles from start to finish and gives us answers to many questions about the Oz characters that sharply contrast Baum’s original presentation. Moreover, this story also investigates the origins of what is considered good vs what is considered evil, and along with that, what makes people seem to be one or the other. Finally, we are also exposed to investigating the effects of prejudice (as in the colour of one’s skin doesn’t determine their character) as well as how politics and fame can corrupt our characters no less than greed and environment. With all this going for it on the heavy side, to plug this into such a fun and famous fairy tale is nothing short of genius, and I’ve already bought this book, as Mr. Maguire’s novels sound fascinating.
But I’m reviewing the musical here, so messages and social commentary aside, when one goes to see a musical there are certain things that one looks for. Certainly we want to be entertained, and “Wicked” is a very entertaining show indeed. Visually, this is quite a spectacular event. The scenery is intricate without being too busy and works well for the action on stage, taking us into this strange and beautiful world flawlessly (even from the balcony, where our seats were located). The costumes are equally well done, and we also get some pretty cool makeup as well (to make someone have green skin throughout a play without it looking splotchy is no small feat, I assure you). The acting was excellent throughout the cast, and all the humour and warmth of the script came through beautifully, with laughs and tears coming at all the right places. This, together with the quality of the singers’ voices – in particular the woman who performed the role of Elphaba – should have made for a truly amazing ride.
I say “should have” because this musical isn’t without its problems. Firstly, although I found the dance numbers were choreographed with precision, I might have wanted a touch more style in some places. I guess I was looking for one of those “wow me” numbers that brings down the house and makes you wish you had become a professional dancer. But this just didn’t come. However, I could have ignored this if it wasn’t for the other drawback. That was the music. My problem here was that this musical, while having good singers and a competent orchestra, just didn’t have any tunes that stuck in your head after you left the theatre. There’s no “hit” here to tap your feet to or want to belt out when you’re in the shower. And correct me if I’m wrong but I think every musical needs to have at least one of those numbers that makes you say “I must buy the soundtrack to this” or at least “I’ve got to download that song”. Thinking back on all the musicals I’ve seen over the years, I gotten at least one of those from practically every one but this one – even as recently as “Avenue Q” – so don’t think I’m nostalgic for just Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Sondheim or even the oldies like Cole Porter, Rogers and Heart or Hammerstein. No, a musical by definition needs really good music and this one gave me only pleasant but unmemorable tunes.
This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t recommend people see this musical. I actually think it was generally fun and does make a nice evening out. The cast do an excellent job with what they were given and all the technical aspects of the production were right on track. Its just that as a whole, it seems to be missing an essential element with the choreography and music that makes me think this might have been better off as a play, and certainly is encouraging me to read the original book. This is probably best to take your kids to see (as they’re less discerning than adults when it comes to the quality of the music), and those subliminal lessons are nothing to sneeze at. Plus, there’s nothing offensive about the production to put the parents off. But for die-hard musical fans, like myself, I’d say you can pass on this one and not feel you’ve missed out on anything. Of course, that’s why I say that this musical is just short of magical.