Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Musical reviews: Wicked

In 1995, Gregory McGuire's unique spin on the legendary Wicked Witch of the West captured a whole new audience for Wizard of Oz enthusiasts around the world. "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West" casts the notorious character as a socially conscious, misunderstood figure who is a victim of her own circumstances. The depiction of the witch gives audiences an entirely new perspective on the classic tale. McGuire's novel became so popular that in 2003 was brought to the Gershwin Theater on Broadway and has quickly become one of the greatest Broadway shows of all time.

For over 100 years, Frank Baum's, "The Wizard of Oz" has fascinated generations with its mystical characters and magical themes. The characters have become iconic figures in American pop culture. "Wicked" takes a real-life approach to the development of the characters in the original story. In the end, we come to realize that the witch is not so wicked after all, but a misjudged human victimized by the conditions under which she finds herself.

The magical aura of the show hits visitors upon entering the world-famous Gershwin Theater. The far wall of the venue sports a gigantic atlas of the fictional country of Oz, over four stories tall. Ushers are clad in Ozian attire and the set is intricate and inviting to the eyes, setting up the lavish production that awaits the theater-goer.

The show opens with "No One Mourns the Wicked", celebrating the recent demise of the disreputable witch, who has just been destroyed by an innocent farm girl. The song poses the question, "Are people born wicked, or is wickedness thrust upon them?" Herein lies the central question of the production. At this point, the show segues to the time of the birth of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. The infant with the green skin and crooked teeth is the product of a lonely mother's infidelities and her lot in life has been thusly forged.

The play takes the audience on a journey through the life of McGuire's sympathetic incarnation of Baum's character. As protector of her sister Nessarose during their days at Shiz University, Elphaba is commonly misunderstood, judged and feared more for her jaded appearance than what lies beneath her greenish exterior. Armed with a strange gift for sorcery and a socially conscious mind, Elphaba attempts to fight the good fight, only to be publicly derided as an inherently evil sorceress by the Wizard and his government, to be feared and scorned by the people of Oz.

The story is a realistic depiction of the characters from Baum's original masterpiece, representing elements of the story in a convincing manner, one to which many can relate. The Wizard is the typical conniving master politician propagandizing events for his own purposes. The Emerald City feels like a real metropolis, filled with all the corruption and excitement, good and bad that depict any other large city. Spectators come to learn how the characters came to their circumstances in the first tale. Answers to unasked questions are revealed, such as: who are the other two witches in the story?; who are the Scarecrow and the Tin Man?; how did the Cowardly Lion become so cowardly?; how did the flying monkeys develop their wings?; and many more. Anyone familiar with the original will surely take interest in this fascinating twist on the tale.

For anyone who's ever been a fan of the Wizard of Oz and enjoys great special effects, great lyrics and a great story, get to the Gershwin Theater in New York or any other venue showing Wicked. And if you see one Broadway show in your lifetime, make Wicked the show you choose.

Wicked Tickets

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