18 May 2011

No one mourns the wicked

The daughter's classmates have branded the school trip to D.C. "boring."

But they didn't get to see Wicked on Broadway.

There were several must-see, must-do items on the daughter's list, and a Broadway show was one of them.

(Along with days at the Met, a trip to the top of the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Matilda the Cat of the Algonquin Hotel...you get the picture).

I've successfully avoided Wicked for the 7 or 8 years it's been playing, primarily because I read the book when it came out, and while I liked the book a great deal, I couldn't see how anyone could adapt such a complicated story for the stage. And the subject matter didn't seem to lend itself to a musical. The fact that everyone loved it didn't convince me either. Everyone loved Les Miserables too, which I found singularly unimpressive and frankly, miserable.

But the daughter wanted to see Wicked, I found 12th row center matinee seats, and I really wasn't in the mood to have a Spiderman dropped on my head.

The Gershwin, as it turns out is a lovely theater, and our seats were excellent. The stage was fabulous, the sets were beautiful, and if the story was a bit thin (not to mention rather changed), and if the character of Glinda was a little too over the top and Elphaba a bit bland (though both actresses were wonderful and both had gorgeous voices), it was nonetheless a completely enjoyable show, and by its finish, I was applauding as enthusiastically as everyone else.

And yet, the opening song took me by surprise. I'd never heard any of the show's music, didn't know anything about the story's adaptation. Given the events of the week prior to our trip, it was eerie and unpleasant, a weird counterpoint to my constant awareness of the city as a player in a much greater drama. In the context of the show, of course, it is the Witch's backstory that explains her, gives her life meaning, shows us how we have misjudged her, creates sympathy. It's a clever device, particularly as a prequel to a book and movie that are so definitive about her character as The Wizard of Oz is. The story that Wicked tells, particularly in the book, is highly political, very overtly so. And because of her inconvenient political leanings, the Witch is made out to be a terrorist by the corrupt powers that be, which ultimately conspire to assasinate her.

And sitting there listening to the opening number, I thought about those who would frame reality in similar context, who would have us think "freedom fighter" and "noble cause," despite the fact that "wrongdoer" and "murderer" were far more accurate. It's true that there are two sides to every story as Wicked points out. Elphaba's cause may have been just; she may have been on the side of right, but real life is rarely so simple. There are two sides to every story, but sometimes both sides paint the exact same portrait of pure evil.

Go listen to some good music: "No One Mourns the Wicked" from the album Wicked (Original Broadway Cast Recording).

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