Over Labor Day weekend I attended the Broadway series performance of “Wicked” at ASU’s Gammage Auditorium in Tempe. This was the first time seeing the production and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After participating in choir in high school, I have come to appreciate and enjoy Broadway musicals and have attended several performances at Gammage in recent years including “Stomp”, “Mary Poppins”, “Phantom of the Opera”, and even The Blue Man Group. However, “Wicked” just blew me away.
“Wicked” has been promoted locally for over a year and many of my friends who have seen it before told me it was amazing. As a result, I had high expectations going in and the show completely shattered those expectations. The musical is based on the 2007 novel by Gregory Maguire, “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.” The book immediately became a New York Times bestseller, and developed into “The Wicked Years” Series featuring three other books.
Like many bestselling books, it was turned into a Tony Award winning hit. There ha been talks of a movie in the works, but nothing has been confirmed. Much has been changed during it’s transformation from book to Broadway mega hit. Whereas the book was concerned with themes of anarchy and corrupt political factions, the musical has a far lighter tone.
Maguire’s novel was more concerned with analyzing Oz’s shifting politics and exposing the Wizard as a bigoted dictator.
The focus of the musical shifts to the relationships between the characters, specifically the friendship between the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch. The musical takes the classic “The Wizard of Oz” movie starring Judy Garland and completely turns it on its head. “Wicked” is told from the Wicked Witch of the West’s point of view and we come to learn she wasn’t so wicked after all, rather she was a rebellious spirit simply fighting for the rights of those weaker than herself.
The story begins before the “Wizard of Oz”, beginning with the odd childhood friendship between Glinda the Good Witch and Elphaba the Wicked Witch, as they attend university together. There they encounter Prince Fiyero, who plays a love interest to both before later becoming the Scarecrow. Glinda and Elphaba’s friendship is tested as they must decide what in life is truly important to them.
The play paints the Wizard, the Munchkins, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and even Dorothy as Oz antagonists. This initially comes as a shock to the audience, however as the story progresses and the negative aspects of Oz are exposed, the audience begins to understand the Witch’s plight.
Throughout the play, the audience comes to empathize with Elphaba and even root for her.
The entire cast were entertaining to watch, in particular Elphaba played by Alyssa Fox and Glinda played by Carrie St. Louis. Both Fox and St. Louis had beautiful singing voices and really belted out their numbers.
The music has been praised ceaselessly since it’s debut ans was, of course, wonderful. The play had a lot of humor and the timing of the actors was flawless. The set and costumes were like eye candy.
My only negative comment on the production is that during several musical numbers, the instrumentals overpowered the voices of the performers. Aside from that, I noted that Gammage Auditorium would benefit from a little cosmetic work. Fresh paint, carpet repairs, and seat upholstery repairs are desperately needed. Overall, I had a fantastic evenings. I doubt I will forget this performance and someday when I am not reading textbooks and reviewing my notes, I might be tempted to read Maguire’s “Wicked” trilogy.
“Wicked” is in Tempe until early October. Yes, the ticket prices are a little steep. But, if you have to live off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a month in order to purchase a ticket, it is worth it. Or, just start saving your loose change for the next time “Wicked” makes an appearance at Gammage. I’m sure it will be back.