Aardy R. DeVarque (aardy) wrote,
Aardy R. DeVarque

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Saw Wicked last night at the Oriental Theater in Chicago.

Is it a bad sign when you walk out of a Broadway-level production of a musical and not only can't remember even the tune of a single song from the show, but are actually humming a song from a different show? ("Last Midnight" from Into the Woods, to be specific, because of the lyric, "I'm not good / I'm not nice, / I'm just right. / I'm the Witch.")

To be fair, the cast was absolutely excellent. The musicians were excellent. The crew was excellent. (In particular, the follow-spot operator who also worked the dragon marionette.) The production values were top notch. The audience was a good audience, applauding and laughing in all the right spots. (Though I was mildly annoyed when the Wicked Witch's first entrance was completely covered by applause, just because she walked on stage. That's a standard audience behavior that's always annoyed me--applaud actors for DOING something and doing it well, not simply for showing up.) Even the venue itself was worth the trip. (The Oriental Theater is so over-the-top wacky 1920's faux South Asian + faux Middle Eastern decor that it has to be seen to be believed.) I definitely enjoyed myself.

However, I was repeatedly distracted by the costumer's choice of always dressing one of the men in the chorus in a skirt for no apparent reason. Through every costume change, he was always wearing a skirt. Even when the other men in the chorus were all wearing long frock coats, his closed around his front to form a skirt. If there'd been any apparent reason, no matter how small, I probably wouldn't have been as distracted by it during every chorus scene.

I never did figure out why the dragon marionette--though way cool--was needed at all; it didn't really contribute anything to the story or the action, and was only rarely used. The clockworks of the rest of the set at least have a arguable tie-in or two to the story or at least the backstory.

Additionally, I have a real problem understanding lyrics when sung by a soprano (it's worse for opera, but at least there you can theoretically read along). The show follows the standard vocal casting of heroine = soprano, villainess = alto (even if it does toss a wrench into the definitions of "heroine" and "villainess"), and the heroine in particular is intentionally a squeaky bubblehead, so for half the scenes, I could enjoy the music and the sound of the singers, but had a hard time picking out specifics in her songs, and thus seemed to miss some funny jokes, had to pick up much of the story from context and other singers, and couldn't understand at all most of the words to the one song whose tune I now remember part of.

One of the real killers for me, I think, was the revisionist history. Retroactive continuity, if you will. I've read all of Baum's Oz books at least twice, if not more, as well as a few of the additional books by other authors, and know that the backstory that the show gives several of the characters Just Ain't So. I mean, it's cute to tie together the origins of the other main characters from the movie, but most or all of them already had established origins in the books that helped make the characters what they are. This took all that and tossed the baby out with the bathwater in order to bolt on a new backstory that radically alters characters who didn't need alteration for the show to make its point, a backstory that very easily could have danced around the original stories and infiltrated them with its cynical flip-flopping of expected roles without flat-out rewriting it as much as it did. But even given that, some elements really, really just rubbed me wrong. The wizard as an unrepentant neo-fascist dictator? I just don't buy it, not for a minute, and not even if you dress it up with pretty song-and-dance numbers (or argue that it's an allegorical reflection of, and thus condemnation of, modern politics). For that matter, I could only barely suspend my disbelief regarding the Wicked Witch of the West spending most of her adult years as a misunderstood animal rights activist on the run. I could put aside most issues related to making one major change and the fallout from that (part of the normal formula for estimating how much disbelief people are willing to suspend), but that particular element was a step too far for me to really believe, on top of several others that just didn't sit well with me. In short, my eyes were rolling almost as fast and frequently as the rpm of L. Frank Baum turning over in his grave.

On top of that, the songs were interesting to listen to, but there weren't any that really stuck in my head. A good musical should have a few crowd-pleasing (or at least cast-pleasing) earworms that most folk will go out humming, and these just didn't grab me. (Most modern musicals I've seen in the last decade or so haven't really had any truly memorable songs--whether good, cheesy or both--like the classic shows of the 1930's-60's did, where song after song grabs you by the labels, refuses to let go, and is certian to be used in tryouts by aspiring actors and mocked by parodists for years to come.)

(At lunch at work today, a coworker who saw the show a while ago and absolutely adored everything about it reminded me of one of the more singable songs and the tune of the song's chorus spontaneously came to mind. Of course, now the only two lines I can remember of that song have been stuck in my head on infinite replay ever since. So I can't say that I don't remember any of the songs, but two lines out of one song isn't much to crow about.)

Suffice it to be said, I wasn't all that enamored of the show's book--but with the cast as good as it was, they probably could have been performing the Moosejaw, Saskatchewan phone book and it still would have been a great show.

It didn't help that I was sitting next to a friend who is somewhere around 400+ lbs and who was not only shoehorned into his seat, but also took up a fair portion of my own. I normally have a problem sitting in theater seats because of the lack of legroom, but usually I can shift around a bit every few whiles so that my knees and hips don't stiffen up and start aching. This time, I spent the entire show cramped in one position, which wasn't conducive to being able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. (Being in this sort of position isn't anything new to me--around 6th-8th grade, we used to cram 7 or 8 kids plus band instruments into what I think was a Chevy Citation hatchback to get home from school, with one or two of us stuck behind the back seat, and I'm patient enough to be willing to put up with some discomfort in situations like this if it means everyone has a place, but normally the situation doesn't last three hours (minus a too-brief intermission).

So overall, I definitely enjoyed the experience and am glad I went, but I don't know that I can really say I liked the show or that I have much desire to see it again.

Feudalism: Serf & Turf
Tags: musicals, theater, wicked

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