REVIEW: Wicked (Broadway in Chicago)

     
     

WFF: Wicked Friends Forever

or

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Enjoy Regime Change!

  

  
     

Chandra Lee Schwartz and Jackie Burns - Wicked - Broadway in Chicago

   
Broadway in Chicago presents
  
Wicked
   
Music/Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Winnie Holzman
Directed by Joe Mantello
at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map)
through January 23  |  tickets: $35-$105  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Big, bold Wicked is back in town. Broadway in Chicago launched its surefire holiday winner with military precision Friday night at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Not a wrong note. Not a misstep. Not a hair out of place–and they’ve got a million fabulous wigs (Tom Watson) to keep in check, y’all.

Jackie Burns and chanra Lee Schwartz as Elphaba and Glinda in WickedJoe Mantello’s direction follows the Powell Doctrine of “overwhelming force,” so that audiences can be assured of Wicked as the one-stop shopping place for big talent, over-the-top pageantry, feel-good humor, and blow-your-hair-back music. To quote Oscar Wilde, “Nothing succeeds like excess.” Plus, the production displays no shame in borrowing from the Disney playbook. So, do you desire dueling divas with the lungs and control to belt out those power ballads? Check. A suave male lead to fight over? Check. A goofy headmistress who turns into Cruella De Vil? Check. Gorgeous lighting (Kenneth Posner) and fun special effects (Chic Silber)? Check and check.

Don’t forget the tight and driven orchestra (P. Jason Yarcho) or the most excessive, blatantly overdone, asymmetrical costuming (Susan Hilferty) in the world. So, for those still on the lookout for a really, really big show to entertain family or those out-of-town guests, your ship has come in.

Naturally, Wicked is also really, really lite entertainment. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Still, revisiting Wicked creates a curious opportunity to re-examine the recent historical conditions under which it developed. Opening a month and a half after the US invasion of Iraq, Wicked throws a few blunt jabs at the War on Terror. Winnie Holzman (book) tried to throw a little politics into the mix without disturbing the musical’s overall feel-good vibe. It’s interesting to gage how well that has held up over the years. For the most part, since Wicked plays it both ways, its safe, bland pronouncements against oppression, increased surveillance, First Amendment violations and picking on people who are different come across like a beauty queen telling you that she wants world peace.

     
Chandra Lee Schwartz as Glinda the Good Witch Photo 6
Richard H. Blake as Fiyero in Wicked The Wonderful Wizard Jackie Burns as Elphaba in Wicked

But, hey, Wicked’s not about politics, right? Heck, no! It’s about two young women of radically different temperaments discovering that they can be best friends forever. Since Oz society casts the girls as “Good’ and “Evil”–and since they themselves never publicly buck that casting–the musical then becomes a rough and sloppy allegory on the moral ambiguities of Good and Evil becoming best friends forever. Now, there’s a fine fairy tale for a nation that cannot make up its mind. Are we the liberators of Iraq and Afghanistan or are we just making the world safe for Halliburton, BP, etc?

I only ask because, you know, not to be a buzz kill or anything but we are still in the middle of the same wars. Very. Very. Expensive. Wars.

Never mind. It’s the holidays and what better to take our minds off our troubles than a mongo production about two girls who loathe each other but, through a merry mishap, become college roommates, who then learn to love each other. I know it sounds predictable and, frankly, lesbian – but relax, parents, even the heterosexuality in this show earns only a G-rating. So, on that cheery note, Wicked is fun for the whole family, especially if your family is made up of girls or gay boys who’ve memorized the soundtrack from beginning to end.

I kid. Straight males can also get a lot out of Wicked, like finding out how the female mind works.

One of the most important rules of feminine society is “be nice.” Always be nice, no matter what. Even if people absurdly hate you for your green skin, even if your family rejects you, even if you’re a social pariah the moment you walk in the door, always, always be nice. Niceness is the perpetual feminine social criteria and niceness always kills.

Elphaba (Jackie Burns) delivers a deliciously sinister witchy laugh but, for all that, her outsider bad girl suffers from a distinct lack of personality. Whatever power Burns exhibits—and she is a (whew!) powerful Broadway songstress—she’s still straitjacketed into a role where nice victimhood is the order of the day. Even Elphaba’s breakout moment in the second act, when she operatically vamps into a fully-formed Wicked Witch of the West with “No Good Deed,” is a transformation that goes nowhere because we never get to see her act wicked.

Chandra Lee SchwartzClearly, the creators of Wicked had far more fun developing Elphaba’s foil. Galinda/Glinda (Chandra Lee Schwartz) overtakes the show. Glinda has mastered nice so well she can be nasty, two-faced, empty-headed and hypocritical yet still retain the love of the hoi polloi. Glinda gets star treatment, not just from the people of Oz, but also in the production’s visual quotations of Legally Blonde during “Dear Old Shiz” and Evita during “Thank Goodness.” “Popular” is a wonderfully funny, sassy and knowing number, not just for its humorous critique of popularity, but also because the song just tells it like it is. Schwarz’s easy control over her part vivifies Glinda’s zany pretentiousness without making her ridiculously clownish. Her classical voice training certainly plays pink princess Elphaba’s green girl next door, but the real mastery she exhibits comes from her comic timing.

Through Elphaba we get a bad girl who isn’t really threatening. Through Glinda, Wicked gets to poke fun at the feminine rules of niceness without raising hairs on parental necks. Through Wicked we all get to laugh at the emptiness and shallowness of our social and political order without really altering it. We feel more helpless now than ever to alter it and that helplessness, in turn, reflects in all our entertainments, lite or otherwise.

We hope and change but nothing really changes. That’s the malaise we share with Oz. No matter how shallow we know popularity is, popularity is politics and popularity ultimately wins. Sure, Madame Morrible and The Wizard (Chicago natives Barbara Robertson and Gene Weygandt) get their comeuppance once Glinda takes over. But, no matter what regime change goes down in Oz, Good Glinda, who was never really good, still has to live out her central casting as Good–however limiting that is for her—while wicked Elphaba, who was never really evil, still has to live fugitive from the angry mob.

It seems that, at least according to Wicked, the marginalized are to stay marginalized for the sake of maintaining order. (Does that go for the talking animals as well, the ones who were oppressed under The Wizard’s regime? We never find out.) Plus, it’s not just that Elphaba or Glinda find themselves thrust into unyielding roles; it’s that they accept these artificial roles without trying to correct their fellow citizens about them or they accept them under the pretense of serving a “greater good.” For the greater good, truth has to be sacrificed. For the greater good, you stay in your artificial, socially constructed role and I’ll stay in mine.

Accept the role society has placed you in, even if you know it’s false. I’m not sure that’s a message that I would want any girl or boy to take away from an evening’s entertainment.

Sacrifice the truth. Um, no. That never leads to anything good.

Accept that there are some things the people are better off not knowing—they’re just a bunch of dummies anyway. No, I think I’d prefer something that encouraged young people to stand up to the crowd, as well as to their leaders, and I think I’d want them to engage with their fellow citizens, rather than write them off as impossible ignoramuses.

I’m obviously asking too much of Wicked. It’s just a friggin’ musical, for cryin’ out loud; a musical made for fun, a musical for girls and boys who don’t feel popular and who want a heroine of their own, a playful diversion from reality. But in a way, with the topics it attempts to examine, Wicked asks for it.

In the face of America’s continuing economic malaise, its stalemated Congress and its continued involvement in demoralizing, resource-sucking wars, I don’t see the value of a production that teaches either kids, or the adults that brought them, mournful helplessness over imbedded social structures or the chicanery of the powerful. After all, one good witch or, rather, two good witches are not going to get us out of this mess. 

But hey, at least we get to see the Wizard!

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Scene from Wicked by Stephen Schwartz - Broadway in Chicago

     
     

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“Wicked” – Final weekend!!

 

DefyingGravity

It’s hard to believe, but after nearly 4 years, Wicked is finally closing (making it the longest-running Broadway-touring play in Chicago’s history).  I have to admit that I saw it 3 times (once during previews, once with a visiting friend, and once more with my niece), and I enjoyed it each time – mostly because it’s such a delightfully clever story. 

Anyway…

Farmhouse Only this weekend remain for Chicagoans to see WICKED, the musical phenomenon that has changed Chicago “for good”.  The WICKED drawing will continue to take place for all performances. WICKED will take its final bow in Chicago on January 25, 2009.

WICKED has helped Broadway In Chicago stand as the fifth most popular tourist attraction in the City of Chicago and has spurred interest in theatre both locally and nationally.  When surveyed, over 70 percent of the WICKED theatre patrons said that they had plans to see another show in Chicago within the year.  

GlindaGoodWitch Called “Broadway’s biggest blockbuster” by The New York Times and “a cultural phenomenon” by Variety, WICKED continues to cast a spell on all of Chicagoland and its many visitors – over 2.9 million people have attended WICKED in Chicago with audience members representing all 50 U.S. states and all seven continents. WICKED is now the longest running Broadway musical in Chicago ’s theater history. The Chicago company of WICKED took the stage on June 24, 2005 at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre.

WickedWitch WICKED is produced by Marc Platt , Universal Pictures, The Araca Group, Jon B. Platt and David Stone . Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, WICKED has music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Winnie Holzman. Directed by Joe Mantello, with musical staging by Wayne Cilento, WICKED is currently presented in Chicago; a US National Tour; on Broadway at the Gershwin Theatre; in Stuttgart, Germany; Melbourne, Australia; Tokyo, Japan; and in London at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. WICKED will be opening in San Francisco on January 27, 2009 at the Orpheum Theatre.

WICKED is now playing through January 25, 2009 at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre ( 24 W. Randolph St .).

For more information, visit www.WickedTheMusical.com/Chicago or www.BroadwayInChicago.com

wizard