Monthly Archives: October 2011

A Wicked Experience in London

There are certain things that I hold off doing no matter how badly I want to get them done. For me, certain experiences have to happen at a certain place and/or at a certain point in time.  And one of those experiences is watching the musical, Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz. The show had been in Seattle a few times already and I kept denying myself the chance to go see it. I had read the book by Gregory Maguire. I had seen the Wizard of Oz a million times. But you ask, why hold off watching the musical?

Well, I told myself years ago that I will only watch Wicked for the very first time in London – even if it would take me another five years of waiting. Guess what? That wait was so worth it! I could have watched it when we were in New York back 2008, but I held true to my promise. Why London? This will probably sound so dumb, but I felt that if the characters spoke with a British accent, that will elevate the whole experience entirely. As it turns out, the show was nothing short of spectacular, and yes, the accents made the difference.

West End production of Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz

Wicked in London's West End

We got to the Apollo Victoria Theatre quite early, and there were already a few people waiting around. Some of them had their faces painted green. The theater itself is also very beautiful with dramatic lighting. There were ushers selling programs for £7; I passed.  Our seats were pretty good even if we were towards the edge but we were only seven rows away from the stage.

Though it has been at least a couple of years since I read the book, I recognized the map of Oz showing the Emerald City smack in the middle of it. There were the gears of the great tick-tock and the giant dragon suspended high above the stage, which were crucial to the beginning of the story.  As soon as the music started, I was transported to a world of magic, vibrant clothing, and fantastic tunes. When Galinda appeared floating on a bubble, I’d already wanted to tell her to tone down the ditzy blonde act. Louise Dearman played the obnoxious, popular, and vain “Good Witch” really well. She was hilarious, but almost to the point of being a loony especially during the Popular act.

Then of course, there’s Elphaba, the Wicked Witch. Her name is actually derived from the author of the Wizard of Oz, Frank L. Baum. We knew her to be the scary hag played by Margaret Hamilton, who cackled evilly and flew on her broom all around Oz. The musical’s Elphaba is a nice girl who, by twist of fate, was born different – with green skin. Even if you have not read the book, you immediately sympathize with her situation. Judging and being blinded by her green cover, her classmates could not see the smart, caring, and funny girl that she truly is. Nikki Davis-Jones proved to be a faultless Elphaba. She is actually the standby for this role normally played by Rachel Tucker, who took the day off. Nikki singing Defying Gravity gave me goose bumps. She’s a vocal powerhouse!

Clive Carter played the Wizard, and Julie Legrand played Madame Morrible; both were fantastic. The character that threw me off a bit was Fiyero played by Mark Evans. He was almost too pretty for the role. And in the book, Fiyero had tribal marks implying that he also has some sort of ethnic background. It’s pretty minor though. I actually quite enjoyed his performance especially in As Long as You’re Mine. It was the most intimate part of the show, and it was well done.

There were significant deviations from the book, but I understood why they had chosen to make those changes granted the time limitation and wanting to meet the audience’s expectations for an enjoyable show versus something very dark and depressing as the book. It is a great story touching on preconceived notions, manipulation, desire for power, desire for acceptance, ambitions, love, and a very unexpected friendship between two witches in college. Strong vocals and solid performances by all the actors garnered the show a standing ovation at the end.

Today is actually Wicked Day 2011 in London, so I thought it timely to write this. They’re eight hours ahead of where I’m at, but hey, it’s the thought that counts. And I do wish I were there to experience this annual event. I heard it’s pretty awesome with appearances by Rachel Tucker and Louise Dearman themselves in previous years.

Lastly, tomorrow is Halloween, so it’s also a good time to talk about witches and wizards. Inspired by this great story and musical, this is why I am dressing up and painting myself green for Halloween!

Halloween Costume as Elphaba

A Wicked Halloween to Everyone!

PS. Gregory Maguire’s last book in the series titled Out of Oz: Final Volume of the Wicked Years is also officially being released on November 1st!

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London’s Tube System: Mind the Gap!

Underground Every time I get to a city with a great public transit system, I get slightly depressed thinking how public transport in the Seattle metro is so insufficient.  We have a bus system that is sad with some routes that are reliable enough for commuting, and some that are not so much. The buses themselves (especially the King County Metro buses) could use some major upgrades. We have the Monorail, which is essentially a tourist trap. And we also have the Light Rail that only goes from downtown Seattle to the airport.

Dragging our exhausted selves and luggage, we got on the train from Heathrow that will take us to central London. We figured out that we would need to transfer to the Northern Line that would take us to the neighborhood where our rented apartment is located.

The automated lady announcer came on: “This is a Piccadilly Line service to Cockfosters.” I immediately thought of my friend Alex exclaiming, “That’s what she said!” This thought made me chuckle a bit.

Then I noticed how clean the train is. It wasn’t loud either. The doors automatically closed and opened at every station we stopped. This is noteworthy because the Paris metro ones don’t; you’d have to manually open the doors to get out. The London subway cars are well lit, have seats that are in good condition, and most of all, they’re well ventilated and do not reek of BO.

And then there’s the awesomely convenient Oyster Card. It’s a plastic card with a magnetic chip – not some little paper ticket with a magnetic strip.  Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Paris all spit out flimsy, easy-to-lose tickets. It may not be the case for the local commuters, but visitors would also appreciate having a card that’s not easily ruined or lost. The ticket for the Paris metro is especially small.

Oyster Card and Paris metro pass

An Oyster Card compared to a Paris metro pass

When you buy an Oyster Card, you just put however much money you think you’ll need. When you run out, you just top up using one of those automated machines or at a ticket counter. You just tap your card at the entrance and tap again as you exit and the exact fare will be deducted from it. If you happen to glance at the display just before walking out, you will see your remaining balance.  How’s that for straightforward!

I’ve never felt so safe using the subway. I went out by myself a couple of times and I was not worried about getting mugged or some other crazy thing to happen to me.  The map illustrating the tube lines routes and stops are easy to follow. In no time, I was transferring trains and changing lines like a pro. I have also learned to appreciate the constant reminder to mind the gap. Why, yes, I will definitely mind the gap!

Chicago, Boston, New York City, San Francisco, Manila, and Paris: those are the cities with some sort of railway commuter system that I can compare with London’s tube system.  It’s by no means an extensive list, but I would say it’s enough for a fair comparison. Say what you will about the British and their funny hats and for driving on the left side of the road, but in my book, they totally nailed this whole tube system down. And yes, how I really do wish we had something remotely close to this in Seattle. Based on my personal experiences, London’s Underground is by far the best subway system that I have ever used.

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Very First Post (from Iceland!)

I’ve been dragging my feet to start posting on this blog, but here it goes. Being in Iceland is that convincing push – no, more like shove – to write about the places I get to visit.

So, hello from Iceland! 🙂

I am only here for three nights before continuing to London, and I am quite charmed by this place already. I am traveling with my cousin for this leg, and soon after we checked in at our hotel, we booked a trip to the Blue Lagoon. It’s a geothermal spa with the lagoon holding six million liters of water, with two-thirds of it being saltwater and a third freshwater. The water temperature ranged from about 98 degrees to just over 100 degrees F. The facilities and locker rooms are quite nice and sanitary, but let me just say that I was still shocked by how comfortable Europeans are with their bodies. Yes, I was the Asian prude with rental robe on at all times, who only used the shower stalls with the doors.

Floating around with my face heavily masked with the signature silica mud stuff staring blankly at the sky is nothing short of spectacular. And then I snap out of it as I hear people chatting with each other in many different languages. It’s like music to me — the different accents, distinct intonations and stressed syllables. I have always been so fascinated by languages, and there is no better place to eavesdrop on people’s conversations than in a lava field full of steamy water.

Getting out of the water was another story. My toes were frozen by the time I hit the showers to rinse off.  I had not realized I was starving until then, so we picked up a sandwich with salmon and slices of hard-boiled eggs at the cafe. I also grabbed a bottle of sparkling strawberry wine imported all the way from Chile. Everything here is expensive, so I was prepared to pay a small fortune for that little meal.

We then caught the 6pm bus back to the city, and we got dropped off right in front of our hotel. If you do find yourself in Iceland, do not miss this incredible experience. It’s a great way to relieve the stiff neck and aching muscles after an overnight plane ride. Relax, get mesmerized, and slap some mud on your face … like I did!

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