Now let me preface this by saying that the musical is approximately 15% like the book of the same name written by Gregory Maguire. So if you've already read it, I suggest preparing yourself by reading the musical synposis first. Otherwise you'll be scratching your head, asking questions like, "Why isn't Fiyero blue?" Here's a list of the few similarities:
- It's the story of what happened before Dorothy came to Oz.
- There are characters who include Elphaba (the "wicked witch") and Galinda ("the good").
- Elphaba and Galinda were schoolmates.
- Elphaba has a love affair with a man named Fiyero.
- Her sister, Nessarose, has a disability.
- Elphaba has a book of spells called the Grimmerie, and uses it to create flying monkeys.
We had the joy of sitting in front of a grandmother and her two children, who were about the most poorly behaved theater patrons I've ever been around. Man, how I love matinees. *eye roll* Apparently these kids thought that the Kennedy Center was one giant snack bar, and that we would all appreciate them chewing, smacking, and opening packages throughout the show. Stupid rugrats.
But I digress. How was the show itself? Basically I liked about half of it.
The parts I enjoyed were those between the two leads. Galinda is the ditzy blonde with all the comic relief, but she has a pure heart that finds deep friendship with a certain green goddess. Elphaba is a woman who's led a tough life, but comes to realize all she's worth as she fights for social justice. The songs these two sing are the best ones ("Popular" and "Defying Gravity," in particular).
For this tour, Galinda is played by Kendra Kassebaum, who I had the pleasure of seeing last year in the Broadway show Assassins as Squeaky Frome (she was originally an understudy, but was full-time in the role by the time I saw it). In this show she was silly fun, and a real joy to watch. She was really able to showcase her talent more than I got to see in the previous show.
Now we were supposed to see Stephanie Block as Elphaba, whom the SNU and I had seen play Liza Minelli in the original cast of The Boy From Oz (Ironic, no?). But instead we saw her understudy, Maria Eberline. Fortunately, Eberline was a natural, and sang the hell out of her part. You could have fooled me that she didn't do that role every night!
Also of note in the cast was Jenna Leigh Green as Nessarose. She may not be a big star, but considering she played archnemesis Libby Chessler on Sabrina the Teenage Witch, she's huge in my book! Her part in this show is small, but I thought she was great. (I can't seem to find a pic I can download, but this is a good shot of her.)
The other thing that I really enjoyed was the sets/lighting. The overarching theme was clock wheels, like the center of the big dragon clock featured in the book. The lights are all sorts of fun colors, particularly the green that's the focus of the Emerald City. But the crowning moment is when Elphaba "flies" at the end of act 1. It's really not a big effect - she's up in the air, and a large piece of black fabric around her looks like a giant skirt. But it's the lighting shooting from every direction that really makes her appear to...well...defy gravity. It's hard to describe, but that one moment was nearly worth the price of admission.
What didn't I like? Well pretty much everything else. The choreography was cheesy and out of place (not to mention it's been done 1000 times before). The ensemble songs were dull and uninventive. At times it was like we were watching a rehash of Les Miserables. The costumes were a mish-mash of styles. Sure it's a fantasy world, but even in Oz you'd hope there was a Michael Kors or something.
And I wasn't too crazy about the secondary characters. The Wizard was wimpy, and Fiyero was about as passionate as Eeyore. But considering the material they had to work with, it's hard to blame them to heavily.
So all in all, is this show worth seeing? Yes. Go to see the great story that is the friendship of Elphaba and Galinda. Is it worth buying scalped tickets just to see it during a limited run when you could just as easily go to New York? No. Worth seeing, but also worth a wait. In the meantime you could always buy the Broadway soundtrack to catch the highlights. You can enjoy the stylings of Idina Menzel, or as I like to call her, Mrs. Taye Diggs.
Happy holidays, everyone!