Tonight was the night I finally caught up with WICKED, "the untold story of the witches of Oz."
WICKED debuted on Broadway in 2003, with Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel as Glinda the Good Witch and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West; Joel Grey played the Wizard of Oz.
In the touring production I saw this evening at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Amanda Jane Cooper was Glinda, Emily Koch was Elphaba, and Stuart Zagnit was the wizard. The show and sets were professional and well presented.
Glinda and Elphaba meet at school, where Elphaba is depressed and unpopular due to her green appearance. Glinda, on the other hand, is shallow but very "Popular," which happens to be one of the better-known tunes.
Eventually Elphaba embraces, well, "wickedness," while Glinda slowly matures from a bubblehead -- who travels by bubble! -- into a more mature and thoughtful woman ready to lead.
Although the show's storyline had never held great appeal to me, which is one reason I'd not managed to see a production previously, I must say I was expecting to be a little more impressed than I was when I finally saw it. I didn't dislike it, and I was glad to finally see it, but "underwhelmed" would be a good adjective. I felt a bit of an outsider among the packed, enthusiastic crowd, as I just wasn't getting into either the humor or the music, especially in the first act.
A big part of the problem with the first act is that Elphaba is depressed and unhappy, which was frankly boring. Glinda's goofiness is meant to balance Elphaba, but Glinda also needs more substance to counteract Elphaba's darkness, and she doesn't gain that dramatic weight until the end of the show. The scenes at school went on and on and on, and the bland set design and costumes didn't help stir up interest either. I suspect the visual darkness of these scenes is to "cleanse the palate" for the visuals to come next, but it was all just too dull.
The show became much more interesting when the scene shifted to the gayly lit and energetic Emerald City, soon followed by Elphaba's first act finale, "Defying Gravity." Watching from 2016, there's definitely an interesting thematic parallel between "Defying Gravity" and "Let It Go" of FROZEN, with both songs having been introduced by Idina Menzel.
The second act was considerably stronger, with more ground covered plotwise and a more enthused performance by Koch, now that Elphaba has decided to let it all hang out, so to speak, riding around on her broom as the black-hatted witch. There are interesting origin stories for the Wicked Witch of the East, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow, and there's also an ending I didn't see coming.
The "inside out" storytelling, with Dorothy an unseen character who nonetheless impacts the story when her house lands in Oz, was creative. I suspect I might get more out of this show on a second viewing, fully appreciating the entire story from the outset.
That said, one of the show's weaknesses is that the Stephen Schwartz score is not exactly one you leave the theater humming. There are a handful of good tunes, including the previously mentioned "Popular" and "Defying Gravity," but for me it was simply not a memorable score. It's hard to imagine any of the songs becoming frequently recorded standards along the lines of the great show tunes of the past. While researching WICKED this evening I learned I'm apparently not the only one who has felt this way.
Based on the enthusiastic reaction of tonight's audience, not to mention the show's track record, my take is a minority view; if it weren't, the show wouldn't have lasted as long as it has!
WICKED plays at Segerstrom Hall at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts through March 6th.
Related posts: Tonight's Theater: The Phantom of the Opera; Tonight's Theater: My Fair Lady; Tonight's Theater: South Pacific (October 14, 2010); Tonight's Theater: South Pacific (October 22, 2010); Tonight's Theater: Beauty and the Beast; Tonight's Theater: Mary Poppins; Tonight's Theater: West Side Story; Tonight's Theater: A Christmas Carol; Tonight's Theater: White Christmas; Tonight's Theater: The Lion King; Tonight's Theater: 42nd Street.