Strange Brouhaha

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Theater

Originally, we had intended to leave Madison after school was out and head out to Chicago, figuring that it would just take as long as it took and we'd hit rush-hour traffic on the way in and Just Deal. We had nowhere to be until lunchtime on Saturday, after all. Then a friend was able to very generously provide us with these difficult-to-get tickets as a Birthday Present...

...and we gladly adjusted.

I'm an Oz fan from way back. When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time in libraries, and they had reprints of all of the Baum books with the John Neill illustrations. I absolutely loved these books, and I still do--they were some of the first books that I read to Herself when she was old enough. I'm happy to say that it seemed that she liked them as much as I did.

I ignored Gregory Maguire's novel, Wicked, when it first came out. It sounded interesting, and I'm all for reimaginations, but it mostly just sort of passed under my radar. (I did end up reading it.) The news that there was going to be a musical made me go "eh," especially when I found out that Kristin Chenoweth was in it. I'm sorry...I find her annoying.

Then came the 2004 Tony Awards. That's Joel Grey, introducing Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth doing an abbreviated version of the Act I closer, "Defying Gravity."

(At the Tonys, "Wicked" got jobbed. There's just no way that "Avenue Q" had a better score than "Wicked". I've listened to them both. No, that's not true: I listened to half of "Avenue Q" and it was dull-with-a-capital-duh.)

The music alone is fantastic; the score was written by Stephen Schwartz (an award-winning composer and lyricist whose credits include "Godspell," "Pippin," and a few of the modern Disney animated films among many others). The "Wicked" soundtrack--one purchase later--became a regular fixture in our house. Certain Persons would listen to it every night at bedtime, and quickly became enamored with Elphaba, the green girl who would become the Wicked Witch of the West.

We went into the show, therefore, having heard the soundtrack a lot and knowing that, at the very least, we would hear some incredible music. I've seen some reviews of the score that claimed that the songs did nothing to move the story or the characters ahead, and I have to say that either I or those reviewers are on crack, and it's not me.

As you can see from the ticket scan, "Wicked" is playing in Chicago at the Oriental Theatre. It's a beautiful space--I wish I had photos to share. I did take a few of the crowd waiting to get in, and of the lobby, but there was no photography in the house itself (as is usually the case, for a lot of reasons). I was going to chance it, because my phone doesn't have a flash on it, but the prohibition was being strictly enforced: I saw an usher get right in someone's face.

Our seats were quite literally the best seats in the house, and I cannot thank the person who got these tickets for us enough. We were amazed when we entered and the usher told us where our seats were (is a person an usher when no actual ushing is involved? he just said "Row J" and pointed, like we couldn't read our tickets for ourselves), and we just kept walking forward...and forward...and forward. We were ten rows back and smack in the middle. There is no way that anyone had better seats than we did, and as a bonus, the seat in front of Herself was fortuitously empty, so she could see.

The current stars in Chicago are Kristy Cates as Elphaba and Erin Mackey as Glinda. These women are phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal. My jaw dropped open several times, including when Cates hit the low note (sorry, I don't have the pitch sense to say "low F#" or whatever it was) at the end of "I'm Not That Girl" and held it rock-steady, and when Mackey's voice soared up into the stratosphere. Really, all of the performers were incredibly strong, both vocally and...uh...acting-ally.

And they had a lot to do...acting-ally. (I'm sorry, it's late, and I can't think of a better word.) Winnie Holtzman's book is packed. Almost nothing is wasted, although there were a few spots where I would have left out a line or two. This is one of those great adaptations that manages to be both faithful to its source and utterly different at the same time. (It is similar to the novel only in very broad strokes.)

Do I have complaints? This wouldn't be Strange Brouhaha without them, but about the only real one is that the sound crew was having an off night. There were a lot of mic problems, including some really bad clipping and static on Erin Mackey. But I feel almost churlish complaining about that, because the honest truth is that the show was fantastic. I highly recommend it. It was everything we could have hoped for and more. Shows like this are the reason that I love going to the theater, and as an added bonus, the Birthday Girl loved it, too.

If youre interested in seeing what the production looked like, check out this HUGE page of pictures. And it is huge, and takes forever to load, and if you are a lonely soul still on dial-up, don't bother.


  • (Savannah) Yeah, I've read that the critics gave Wicked middling reviews. It's mindboggling. Here's a show with inventive and passionate music, with lyrics worthy of Lorenz Hart, and with one of the tightest and best-thought-through books ever...and critics say "eh." Unbelievable.

    The only thing I can think of is that they didn't want the Oz they knew and loved to be messed with. I guess the Wicked people should have put an "Elseworlds" label on it :) Then it wouldn't have seemed so threatening.

    ("Elseworlds," iirc, is the label used by DC comics when they want to do a storyline that would violate continuity. It's stuff that "didn't really happen," or happened in a parallel universe. So they can do pretty much anything to the characters or the concept, without damaging the franchise.)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:52 AM  

  • Dang. Wanted to get tickets when it was here for Penny's b-day, but we were out of town when they went on sale, and then sold out in about four seconds. Have to catch it next time through.

    By Anonymous Josh, at 10:26 PM  

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