Print Story Theater Talk: Wicked
By duxup (Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 12:44:48 PM EST) (all tags)
Anyone else see the musical Wicked?

Was it crap?


(no spoilers except the parts clearly blacked out at the end)

Mommy and Daddy  went out to celebrate our 4th wedding anniversary with a nice dinner, before dinner we went to an afternoon show of Wicked (a gift for mommy's birthday).  This was our first night out together without the baby since he was born 9 months ago.  Wicked tells the back story story of the witches of The Land of OZ, not Australia, although that might have been better. This is the story about the Wizard of OZ, or more so the back story about the witches of Oz. We heard lots of hype from what I would call casual, not very critical, theater fan friends. I expected a passable, if silly, musical. I figured it would be something I could tolerate but nothing particularly outstanding.

Mrs. Duxup worked in the theater for a long time, the Guthrie Theater, Children's Theater, Santa Fe Opera and etc. Her role was sometimes particularly specialized such as making hats, or other times much more general doing crafts and / or costumes. The theater world is unionized so a lot of the specific job titles sound a lot more specific than what she actually did. Anyway Mrs. Duxup is no theater newbie, but she is a fan so she's mostly forgiving. Mr. Duxup, much more critical, of everything artsy. Living in the Twin Cities makes being an uneducated arts snob easy, there's a lot of quality work to be seen. Mrs. Duxup is often annoyed when Mr. Duxup is particularly critical so it says a lot when at the intermission she asked Mr. Duxup's opinion first and didn't seem to be bracing herself for my usual grubbily complaints. The first half was unimpressive, what I didn't expect was the second half would be worse.

Now personally I like a good musical. Musicals are often silly, sentimental, and melodramatic. I don't mind that. When done right you get some toe tapping musical numbers, some so-so or forgettable musical bits, a passable / predictable story, and a good time.

Wicked could be described as The Land of OZ, 90201. Apparently the geopolitical witch makeup of OZ is largely due to a childish series of Jr. High level social dramas that as the show goes on are taken more and more seriously.

There is one, maybe two, memorable musical numbers. Strangely though those good musical numbers could have been take out Wicked and just put in another musical and you'd never know the difference. There were several drawn out musical numbers that felt like they were computer generated 1980s quality musical numbers. It wasn't the performers, they could all sing quite well, it was just the arrangement, content and pacing of the music. It felt like a lot of throw away musical bits. I have to wonder if for the traveling show that maybe they rearranged a bunch of the musical numbers to death? No idea but the music was largely crap.

One serious issue with the musical was that there seemed to be very little character development. Usually you get a song or two that are largely about the main characters. In this case rather than establish the characters they spent much of their time singing about the numerous events in the musical with maybe a tidbit about what they're thinking. I didn't give a damn about the characters at any point during the film, they were mostly just empty shells IMO because the musical didn't bother to establish them. I suppose the primary story of The Wizard of Oz is supposed to be the hook that draws me in but everything in Wicked is so disconnected in style from The Wizard of Oz that I just didn't care. There was very little of The Wizard of Oz in Wicked IMO except some names, and references here or there. There is nothing wondrous about OZ in Wicked, it is all very obvious, very pedestrian. It would be like me writing some silly The Wizard of Oz fan fiction, just the presumed connection between some fan fiction and the primary story wouldn't make the fan fiction any better.

The actual pacing and plot of the musical involves so much going on that it suffers there as well. At one point something(s) is created (not a spoiler, it just happens) and later released. The musical puts on the same furious dance with red lighting when both events occur. The event is apparently bad, they never say why or what the significance of the event is, red lighting = bad, ok move on with the story... wait what? Granted they don't have time to explain, with the intermission the running time is 2 hours 45 minutes and there is such an effort to pack in The Wizard of Oz back story for EVERY SINGLE BIT of The Wizard of Oz that they don't have time to do a good job with any of it. It really feels like musical by committee where everyone on the committee got their way and then not enough time to do much of it right.

There is an interesting subtext about political and nationalistic scapegoating in the first half that I found a bit surprising. It is a IMO a bit of a complex issue to tackle and I was curious to see how it plays out in the second half. The answer? Aside from a moment or two they pretty much discard that concern. Worse yet the moral of that story is in the end pure SHIT.

As I noted the second half is trash. It actually crosses the line from melodrama to obnoxiousness. That is something I think is hard for a musical to do considering the epic amounts of melodrama allowed for such genera. There are several scenes where I figure "oh ok here is the turning point for character X with her big musical number ... oh wait here it is... oh again?"

Musicals are a bizarre place that allow for a lot of weird and silly things to happen, so it is bizarre that the biggest problem is that Wicked tries to explain every bit of The Wizard of Oz with a self important, overly complex, and painfully dumb back story. By trying to explain The Wizard of Oz they rip out all the wondrous and mysterious aspects that made the bizarre The Wizard of Oz enjoyable.

The local Children's Theater a few years ago did The Wizard of Oz with a flying house, black and white bits (cool lighting and makeup tricks there), awesome munchkins, they hired matching dogs that work Broadway shows so they had live dogs on stage as Todo, neat stuff all around. 1/4th the ticket price 1000% better.  Also I saw a touring company doing Marry Poppins a year or so ago, again a far superior show.

Another problem, Wicked's back story doesn't even make sense. I explain that and more in the obscured spoilers below:

So the the scarecrow was transformed from attractive animal rights loving dude the witches each want. He never bothered to mention that to Dorthy? or that he had been to Emerald City, or any of that?

The Tin Man already had a bit of a back story as mentioned in The Wizard of OZ, but apparently he knew both the East and West witches, again didn't mention that to Dorthy. He is also a surprising nationalistic sort of agitator in Emerald City again, never comes up in The Wizard of Oz.

Also the Tin Man was a munchkin at one point ... munchkins are shorter than Dorthy, but the Tin Man is taller than Dorthy...

Munchkin oppression is because that one witch just wanted to keep one of the munchkins near her because she loved him? Doesn't that seem like a stupidly elaborate method for a witch?  Usually witches do a lot of individual spells and curses, that would seem to make more sense.


As for the whole scapegoating subtext, the moral of the story apparently is that you should recognize that such things are bad, but just go along with it until you're running the show and then take vengeance on your enemies and deal with the scapegoating when convenient for you. Whatever you do don't speak out publicly if it might be inconvenient.  Also after taking power and vengeance on your enemies who were scapegoating people... apparently you don't have to bother rectifying the damage done by the scapegoating because the story is just over then.
< Damages | maybe dancing will be okay, too >
Theater Talk: Wicked | 10 comments (10 topical, 0 hidden)
Sounds like they really mangled the book by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #1 Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 02:00:15 PM EST
Not surprising.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

Dunno about Wicked by Captain Tenille (4.00 / 1) #2 Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 03:40:34 PM EST
But after the whole Tristan thing (I'm sad to say that my wife did not enjoy it nearly as much as I did), I told her I'd take her to see "Billy Elliot: The Musical" next spring.

I am not looking forward to it, but then again I just don't like musicals very much.


/* You are not expected to understand this. */

This strikes a chord. by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #3 Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 04:37:22 PM EST
I'm a visual guy. I saw Othello last year on stage and the set's simplicity annoyed me. It annoyed me so much that it detracted from the performance. The last stage set which impressed me was a concert with The Cure and that was a while ago. I don't miss the theatrical style of television one bit. It's too dated for me. I prefer science fiction television, when I watch television, and most of that is better suited for the film style of production.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

Othello by duxup (4.00 / 1) #6 Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 05:59:31 PM EST
The last time I saw Othello they went the simplistic route too, but this was on a small stage and a production meant to travel lightly to some unconventional theater situations.  Fortunately the performances did a good job holding together and they kept the pace up.   Had they done it on a bigger stage I'm not sure it would work.  Oddly enough a few of the places they planned to travel were military bases.

[ Parent ]
I saw it at Seattle's Intiman. by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #7 Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 07:43:42 PM EST
It's a legit venue and the show ran long enough that they didn't have to cheap it up, but they did. Costumes were weak too. Just greedy. In any case, it's the imagery that works for me. I'll drop comic titles when they change artists in a story arc. Annoying.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
never seen the musical. by misslake (4.00 / 1) #4 Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 05:32:15 PM EST
but the book, not the wizard of oz, but wicked - was delightful.
it was more about the witches (who were sisters) and it had great bits about why glenda was all golden and pink and why the west witch was all green.
it was quite good.

They covered the Green by duxup (2.00 / 0) #5 Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 05:53:26 PM EST
They covered the green (not sure how it compared to the book), to no end, as if we didn't notice the green lady on stage and that she might be ostracized to some extent .... and then they mentioned it again, and again.  Her sister in the wheel chair, again they stressed that as if we the audience might not know that she was in the chair, and that might also be a challenge for her.

Beyond that Glenda was just a stereotypical blond girl from a privileged background, beyond that there was nothing to Glenda's character in the musical despite being on stage much of the time.

[ Parent ]
Seen it by anonimouse (4.00 / 1) #8 Sat Aug 14, 2010 at 07:19:24 AM EST
  went out on a date to see it. Apart from the fact I got an email the next day saying she didn't want to see me again, the show was ok.

Girls come and go but a mortgage is for 25 years -- JtL
Like others, I've read the book by lm (4.00 / 1) #9 Sat Aug 14, 2010 at 11:03:35 AM EST
... but haven't seen the show.

The book was exceedingly clever in spots. But, IMO, your critique of the stage show largely mirrors the book. The beginning is  intriguing and the latter half falls to melodrama.

That said, some of my friends think the book and its sequel (Son of a Witch) are the best thing since sliced bread.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
I've always presumed by garlic (4.00 / 1) #10 Mon Aug 16, 2010 at 11:37:34 AM EST
that much of the trouble I had with wicked was from the original source material -- at least the problems with the story.

Theater Talk: Wicked | 10 comments (10 topical, 0 hidden)