It may not always be as apparent, but theater geek is a part of my geek makeup (see Figure 1) and lately I’ve found myself on a Wicked kick, which seems to have been quite fatefully timed. Almost like a prophecy, one might even venture. Before we jump right into that, though, a quick background…
My obsession with Wicked began back in 2004, on plane to London where I happened to hear four songs from the show while tuning in to the in-flight Broadway channel: Popular, I’m Not That Girl, One Short Day, and Defying Gravity. I proceeded to listen in to that set at least three more times before we landed, and hum the tunes around Heathrow after – already I was hooked! (And Heathrow, my apologies.)
A general idea of what’s going on in there, at least
Luckily, my best friend at the time happened to be into Wicked as well, and soon my interest in the show was being enabled with a full copy of the CD. Since then I’ve read the book, got my own copy of The Grimmerie, seen the play, and done a fair amount of shower-singing. What can I say? I got carried away…and not just by balloon!
Thanks, Winston Bishop gif, for perfectly describing my recent commutes from work
So why the sudden Wicked kick now? First, as any geek knows, you never stop being a fan of something – things just get placed to simmer on the back burner as you make room for new interests. As it so happens, the holidays instigated the sudden ‘fandom of the month‘ rotation to Wicked. Initial thoughts on what to get who for Christmas triggered a nostalgic brainstorming session of some of the favorite gifts I’ve received over the years.
So that night, I opened the book cupboard and grabbed The Grimmerie where a photo with an IOU promise fell out…
Five months after opening that Christmas gift I was seated in the Pantages Theatre in LA, seeing the show live for the first time with my parents. It was an experience I’ll always cherish, one I’m glad I got to share, and was certainly a gift I will never forget.
Ok, ok, so what about the whole ‘prophetic fateful timing‘ thing? Well, readers, it just so happened that as Wicked’s overdue takeover of my brain began, the show’s national tour was making it’s way to San Diego! I tried not to get my hopes up for seeing it – when would I have time? How could I splurge when I’d just paid for some plane tickets and still had holiday shopping to do? Listen to Elphaba, Brooke, wishing only wounds the heart.
Still, I looked into student tickets in my, ‘not-going-to-get-my-hopes-up-but-sort-of-going-to-get-my-hopes-up-anyway‘ way, only to discover that a lottery system was in place for Wicked as it was such a popular show. Now there was the added obstacle of timing. Lottery hopefuls had to be at the theatre 2 hours before the show to put their name in the lottery, and that wasn’t exactly going to fly with work and my commute. Sure there was the weekend, but not knowing how this worked and how many seats were typically available, I worried these would be the worse days to try.
This is never going to work! / You mustn’t think that way anymore!
Then last Friday brought a blessing in disguise. I had to go in to work extremely early, so I figured this was it – the perfect chance to try and put my name in for a ticket that night! And although I had almost given up on seeing the show this time around as it was the final weekend for the San Diego leg of the tour, once the idea popped into my head on Thursday I just couldn’t seem to get rid of it. All day Friday I once more kept trying not to get my hopes up of seeing it that night (I know I’m not always the best at getting over disappointment right away) but I also couldn’t picture my evening being spent any differently.
…So maybe there was a bit of magic involved when my name was the first one pulled out of the cauldron. Who knows?
I couldn’t believe it. I was half stunned, half elated as I self-consciously walked to the table past my fellow lottery hopefuls with fingers crossed. They probably drew close to 10 names total (somewhere around 35 other people where there, so that’s better than I had figured!), and all of us got an orchestra section seat for the price of $25. I was unexpectedly going to see Wicked that night after all – and in a front row seat!
As I paid for my ticket and later went in, the staff who was around during the lottery was so happy for everyone who got a ticket, and the excitement was contagious. It felt like being welcomed into a big group hug of people just as in love with Wicked as I was.
‘When was the last time you saw her fly?’ one attendant asked as I paid for my ticket. It gave me pause, 6 or 7 years? Too long, we agreed. He then mentioned that this actress brought some a different approach in some ways to Elphaba’s character than he’d previously seen, which I think is one of the best parts of live theater – every performance is a new experience, but still the story you love.
The anticipation for 7:30 to just roll around already mounted.
Finally the doors for seating were opened and I found myself sitting right behind the orchestra on the right side of the stage, chatting with a couple other lottery winners who where just as excited. The lights dimmed, the orchestra did there thang, the Clock of the Time Dragon reared its head, and I proceeded to be totally enthralled for the next two and half hours.
And oh, it was thrillifying. The cast were superb! I loved Chandra Lee Schwartz’s Glinda, you could tell she was very comfortable in the role and knew her character. Emma Hunton was a fantastic Elphaba. Her delivery, especially with the humorous lines, had such snark – she owned it. They both owned it!
I only wish I could share clips of this performance with you. Even so, I’m still in total geek out mode so you’ll have to bear with me through some of my favorite moments from the show (without giving away anything too specific from the story, of course)…
**Even so, spoilers (ish?) afoot – proceed with caution.
You know, if I had access to a time machine I think one of the small, non-potentially universe threatening things on my to-do list would be to go back and see the original cast perform as they went through the initial evolution of defining these characters.
I mean, look at this scene. Ok, first off, the choreography is so subtly brilliant, yes. Then Norbert Leo Butz
is basically amazing. has the presence that makes the character’s command and influence in the scene work. The way his movements captivate the other students as they begin to mimic him almost unintentionally, mesmerized by this new guy’s charm, yet still gives us that sense of Fiyero just going through the motions. Of course, that means the entire ensemble is perfectly in sync as well and together make this so perfect.
And while we’re Dancing Through Life (if you’re in a hurry, the 4:30 mark should about do it), I might as well mention that one of my absolute favorite moments of the show is towards the end of this scene when Galinda and Elphaba understand each other for the first time. The music, timed just so with the choreography; slow melody coming in and mixing with a bit of Elphaba’s theme and as if to say, ‘whoa, hang on, something magical is happening here’ (Stephen Schwartz, you are a genius).
Coupled with the actresses’ movements, gestures, and expressions, they perfectly convey Galinda accepting Elphaba followed by Elphaba tentatively accepting Galinda, as she looks around at the other students and realizes she’s no longer a total outcast. It’s a beautiful moment, portrayed in so few words.
I happen to be deeply shallow and genuinely self-absorbed. / No, you’re not.
Now the main focus of the story is not the romance, but I still enjoy the relationship dynamic between Elphaba and Fiyero – especially the beginnings of it, sparked during the lion cub scene. The writing done by Winnie Holzman is so spot on here (and everywhere) with a great balance of humor, empathy for both characters, and a sense of loneliness. There’s little time to get into too much detail with them, but again in what could have been an insignificant scene we get a character defining moment for both.
And just…gah! The ending is so cleverly staged and tied in with the movie we all know and love, and the final meeting between Elphaba and Glinda is so touching and authentic, truly. It’s bittersweet but satisfying, and as any good story does, Wicked leaves you with ambiguous motifs to ponder, but also a warmth stemming from the strength of friendship. In their own way, Glinda and Elphaba fulfill a Holmes/Watson, Kirk/Spock-esque, two sides of the same coin, incomplete without the other dynamic, yet they still retain a strong sense of self as individuals and it’s wonderful adding an iconic female duo to that list.
Warm and fuzzy feels? Check. Break my heart into tiny, little pieces feels? You bet.
You walk away feeling as if you’ve known these characters and their story your whole life (and with more than one catchy tune stuck in your head!). The team that made the musical possible and the people who continue to give the show it’s power have created a timeless story with universal appeal. Wicked is a production that I will always want to see again and again, and can’t imagine growing tired of. And after seeing it a second time, I might even venture to officially declare it my favorite musical (though that seems to be the case whenever I see one of my top three…)!
On another note, I think I may have been ruined for theatre. The last three plays I’ve seen I was lucky enough to end up seated within the first 10 rows, and that is seriously the way to see a show. Ah well, I guess I can live with that.
What are your favorite theatre memories or shows? Feel free to share below! I know this was a long one, so thanks for reading, cheers! Until then…