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.
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!
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!