Friday, April 14, 2006

Review of "Wicked"

I saw the tour of "Wicked" tonight and found it to be a disappointment. The most heartening thing about the show wasn't the production, but the presence of thousands of young theatre-goers in the audience who were clearly in love with the show and adored every bit of it. I'm happy for them. I had Endora; they have Elphaba. She's even more cool because she sings. And she's green.

I'm sorry I walked out without my program so I can't tell you the names of the leading ladies, who did a terrific job with the roles of Elphaba and Glinda. They had a lot of fun out there, were great singers, and brought heart and wonderful comic timing to all their bits. They were also game for a load of special effects and it wasn't their faults that most of those were just clumsy enough to be distracting. I hadn't realized how wonderful a role Glinda is: I think it goes down in the annals of theatre as one of the great comedic soprano roles for pretty blonde dingbats with a killer range. Delicious part.

The problem is the script: it's a mess. Unlike Sondheim's "Into the Woods," which had the wonderful James Lapine to weave dramatic gold out of a mishmash of well-loved old fairy tales and legends (and some believe that that second act isn't so much gold as dreck), "Wicked," which takes its source from Gregory Maguire's celebrated novel of the same name, just doesn't manage to make a coherent tale out of this new, sympathetic take on the Wicked Witch of the West.
Therefore, the plot contrivances are often embarrassing and insulting to the audience's intelligence.

The biggest problem is the show's constant veering from light comedy to super heavy-handed "issue" drama. It maintains a fairly consistent darkness, and some of Stephen Schwartz's score has some great moments, but only moments and never lyrically. The musical numbers are nothing special, except for the vocal pyrotechnics required by Elphaba that make "Defying Gravity" the closest thing to thrilling the production manages to deliver. Otherwise, the numbers are entertaining without ever being gripping, and effective without ever being truly moving. Again, in my opinion this isn't the fault of the performances but of the piece itself, which simply gets too dark and deep but undercuts itself with the silly, unnecessary need to cram in every recognizable aspect of "The Wizard of Oz" into the story. The flying monkeys sort of make sense (although it's a rather cheap contrivance that gets them that way), but only sort of. There's a Mr. Tumnus figure stolen right out of The Lion, The Witch And the Wardrobe that just doesn't work, and the way the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion get crammed into the plot is so poorly done it's positively cringe-worthy, and should have been fixed out of town.

It's a shame, really, because the concept is so marvelous and rich for a really brilliant interpretation, but we don't get that here. Instead we get dreadfully inconsistent secondary characters, and a frantic ensemble who changes costumes so often and so fast, and who dance with such frenzied energy you can't help but feel they're trying to distract you from the show's real deficiencies. The singing is good, the sound is good, the orchestra is good, the costumes are a delight, and the staging is mostly fine (with the exception of one monumental blooper that ruins the magic at a really important moment at the end of the show -- all I can say is, why a sheet? Why not a SCRIM? For the love of Oz, a scrim!). The singing is terrific and the performances very committed. The audience loved it, and you probably will too.

Don't listen to this old witch.


Blogger Chalicechick said...

I a solidly in the camp that says the second act ruins "Into the Woods." That said, I had totally forgotten this a couple of years ago. The CSO had never seen it and we saw it. His reactions at intermission and his reaction after the show could not have been more different. It doesn't help that presuming Bernadette Peters is not playing the witch, the Baker's wife is easily the most appealling character in the show and she gets killed off suddenly and for no apparent narrative reason (Other than possibly to punish her for having sex with someone who wasn't her husband.)

I read the novel "Wicked" and to me the whole thing felt contrived and depressing. I still don't quite get how they made it into a Broadway show.



Post a Comment

<< Home