A Wicked Impact

Wicked: CANCELED | Columbus Association for the Performing ArtsMy feature writing classes are working on writing a critical review–creatively. I am posting this review as an example for them. Plus, I don’t think I ever showed this to my mother. Love you, Mom.

I was five years old when I first experienced the Wicked Witch of the West. It was a rainy day, and my mother decided to take my friends and me to a matinee at the movies. MGM had just re-released “The Wizard of Oz” in theatres, and my mother, a true “movie buff” by every definition, thought this would be a great idea. Little did she know at the time how much those particular 101-minutes, in a dark theatre, the green witch bigger than life, would impact me.

For years afterwards—and even still today—I have dreams about tornadoes. During college, especially during trying times, I would have the same recurring dream. In my dream, the tornado was brewing in the distance, the wind whipping, and I would be standing at the door, making sure all of my family and friends were safely in the cellar, as I watched the tornado’s sinister progress in the distance. Unfortunately, I would always wake up right before the tornado would strike. However, I do remember one important fact about the dream: it seemed I dreamed in sepia tones.

The film impacted me like no other. I blame all these strange subconscious happenings and my quirky obsession with Oz on my mother. And it all goes back to that swirling tornado and that frightening green witch.

So, imagine my surprise when, as a theatre-lover, I had the opportunity to see Wicked, The Musical. My mother had beaten me to the stage show and saw it before I did, but knew instantly how much I would love it. Based on the book by Gregory Maguire, the story traces the lives of the witches of Oz, Glinda, the Good, and Elphaba, The Wicked Witch of the West. Gregory Maguire’s creative mastermind takes us pre-Dorothy, to a time when both witches attended college, and the unusual friendship that unfolded during their time at school as roommates.

When the story opens, Glinda the Good addresses the munchkins, proclaiming through song in her bubble, “Good news, the witch of the west is dead. The wicked witch that ever was…is dead. Good news!” From there, Glinda recounts her relationship with The Wicked Witch of the West after a munchkin asks her in song, “Is it true that you were her friend?”

From this point on, Wicked goes back in time, and tells the tale of these two women, and how they came to know—and respect—each other. It was quite touching, much in the same way as it is at the end of “The Wizard of Oz,” when Dorothy awakens to her family and friends around her and proclaims that “there is no place like home.”

As I was mesmerized at a young age with the original movie, I was even more mesmerized as an adult by every aspect of the stage show of Wicked. From the extraordinary sets revolving around a large time clock, emerald green Oz, and even a cornfield, Wicked sucked me in from that very first orchestral note. There is no chance at boredom in this well-crafted and well-paced musical.

The theme of “wickedness” prevails in the show. Glinda asks the munchkins in the opening number, “Are people born wicked? Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?” This question is one that the audience will be able to answer by the end of the show in terms of Elphaba and Oz. What the audience doesn’t know when Glinda utters this particular question is the incredible journey they will go on in order to find out the answer. Through catchy, creative, and comedic music and lyrics written by Stephen Schwartz, combined with the writing of the story (adapted from Maguire’s book) by Winnie Holzman of Thirtysomething fame, the story of the two witches takes twists and turns, much like a tornado, that brings us to the final scene that will leave theatre fans standing on their feet for a much deserved ovation.

I was lucky enough to see the production of Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre on Broadway in New York City. This remarkable theatre’s sound system alone made it a stand-out place to see the production. One of my pet peeves when seeing a show is when the theatre’s sound system is lacking. The audience must be able to hear every lyric clearly; since this is a musical where song is about 80 percent of the show, there is a real need for the sound to not just be good, but to be excellent. Audiences will find that I am right when I claim that you will be able to hear every lyric there. Loudly and clearly.

In terms of the two actresses who portrayed the lead witches of Oz, both Kerry Ellis (in her full green make up) who played Elphaba, and Kendra Kassebaum who played Glinda, were outstanding. The ability by both actresses to tell a story through song—combined with comedy and drama—and succeed immensely, will please both novice audiences as well as the more experienced theatre attendees. Their voices, each one unique, combine beautifully in harmony during several selections, especially in the scene-stealer “Defying Gravity” at the end of the first act. The touching number the two witches sing near the end of act two, “For Good,” may even have audience members dabbing their eyes with a tissue. The woman seated next to me needed two of them.

But perhaps the overriding “goodness” of Wicked is the lyrics Glinda sings to Elphaba in “For Good:”

I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you…  

Wicked provides us with so much: entertainment value, memorable music, a tremendous stage show that kept me highly entertained, voices that gave me chills during particular harmonies, but overall, I cherished the overriding theme of the story itself.

Throughout our lifetime, people come in and out of our lives for various reasons; sometimes the reasons are quite clear, and other times the reasons are much hazier. For the witches of Oz, there were clear reasons they were in each other’s lives. Wicked makes you think. Can I, and audiences alike, say the same for those people who are in our lives?

I know I can. My mother is in my life for a reason—for many reasons. Some of those reasons are undeniably clear. It was she who opened my eyes to green witches and tornadoes, music and lyrics, creativity and laughter, and theatre and film. I will be forever thankful.

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