Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
June 29 – July 17
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you know how I feel about musicals. For those of you that are new, I’ll sum things up quickly. I hate musicals. Detest them. Can’t stand them. Really not my cup of tea. So you can imagine my reluctance to go and see Wicked when it came to town. But with several Tony awards for the show’s Broadway run and over 2 million attendees world-wide for the touring production, I felt that Wicked was too monumental to go unreviewed in Calgary. I would go even if I hated every minute of it.
Funny thing is, I didn’t hate it. In fact, I actually liked it quite a bit. And no, my anti-musical stance is not softening. Rather, Wicked is a clever, beautifully costumed and staged, inside jokey and fun play that also happens to be set to music most of the time.
Wicked tells the backstory of why the Wicked Witch of the West became the way she did. We are not born wicked, the play posits, but rather we are made. The play opens with Glinda the Good Witch celebrating the death of the Wicked Witch of the West with the inhabitants of Oz. But when asked by one of the celebrants if she knew the Wicked Witch and was in fact friends with her at one point, the play morphs into a long flashback that spans the length of the performance.
We see the birth of the Wicked Witch, named Elphaba, who is oddly born green from, head-to-toe. We learn that her father rejected her strangeness and later blames her for her younger sister’s handicap. We feel sorry for Elphaba as every person she encounters points and stares and mocks her differences causing her to take on the prickly demeanour of the outcast.
Fast forward to Elphaba at boarding school as she rooms with Glinda, a goody-two-shoes whose beauty is rivalled by her vanity and shallowness. The girls instantly hate each other, but eventually become a sort of odd-couple set of best friends. During this time Elphaba shows her prowess at magic and is accepted into the exclusive sorcery class, eventually insisting that Glinda be allowed entrance as well.
All seems fine for Elphie at last. She has a friend. She is studying magic. She is hopeful that her talent will get her an audience with The Great Oz so that he might take away her greenness. But it all starts to go awry when she learns that her favourite teacher, a goat, is losing his ability to speak. It turns out that all the creatures in Oz are suffering this condition and Elphie believes that it is some nefarious plot to silence the animals and keep them under control. She will have none of it, and begins an animal activism crusade which leads to Elphie being labelled wicked and eventually causes her to behave that way.
There is much more to the plot including cute nods to all things Wizard of Oz such as the origin of the ruby slippers, why the broom flies, where the Lion, Tim Man and Scarecrow came from and why those evil monkeys have wings. While many of the explanations were forced or overwritten, I couldn’t help but smile with nostalgic warmth as the familiar plots and characters from the Oz movie were given context and dimension in the play.
But what really made me smile was watching Natalie Daradich as Glinda. Part Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, part Cher in Clueless and part Nelly Olsen from Little House on the Prairie, Daradich took a deliciously juicy role and made it even tastier by her abundant energy and hysterical timing. The play may be about Elphaba, but it’s Glinda that steals the show and is itself worth coming out to see.
By now you’ve probably think that I’ve purposefully forgotten about the music part of the play. Actually I have forgotten about it, but not on purpose. While the casts’ voices were all strong and a pleasure to listen to, the music itself was fairly forgettable. This is not the kind of musical that leaves you humming those memorable tunes. The lyrics were well written and either emphasized the plot or added to it, but I felt that the music itself was just background padding to the play. It was fine while it was happening, but evaporated once the number was over.
My final thoughts on the performance focused on the initiated as opposed to the newbie. Much of my enjoyment of the play hinged on my knowledge and fondness for The Wizard of Oz and my desire to learn the secrets of the prologue to the narrative. For those of us schooled on the original movie, Wicked provides a delightful romp in the past that gives context and credence to the story we have come to know and love. But as I looked around at the audience full of young girls under the age of 10, I questioned if the same nostalgic yearning for answers was what kept their interest. I am hesitant to say the play holds up on its own without foreknowledge of its famous predecessor, but the youngsters in the audience seemed to be enjoying themselves either with or without the familiarity of the famous story that made this play possible.
Either way, Wicked seems to enchant all audience members on whatever level of understanding they may bring and provides good entertainment for the time being. And for me, that is a good enough reason to put on decent clothes and come to the theatre.
For the guys – It’s a musical, about girl power and how women are misunderstood and often victimized and taken advantage of. But if you are a fan of the Wizard of Oz you will enjoy it. MAYBE SEE IT
For the girls – You will love the girly humanness of the Wicked Witch and will relate to the bullying that leads to her downfall and the womanly strength that raises her up again. SEE IT
For the occasional audience – The sets are fantastic, the performances are great, the story is fun and you will get all the inside jokes. SEE IT
For the theatre junkies – It didn’t win all those awards for nothing. This is an opportunity to see one of the most successful Broadway musicals on your home turf. You may not love everything about it but you will appreciate the slickness and smartness of both the play and the production. SEE IT