Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Wizard of Oz: Thoughts on "Wicked".

Hello Randomeers (?!)

It's been a quite the Oz-matic year for me. Around March of this year we had the Disney “Oz, the Great and Powerful” movie come out in theaters (you can find some of my thoughts HERE). Since February I've been slowly reading all 14 volumes of the Frank L. Baum Oz novels. They're actually very cute and highly entertaining children's stories! Don't get me started on Ozma because I will go on a crazy fangirl rant! Haha! She's my fave character. I've also been collecting figures and toys, two big additions being the Tonner Glinda and Tonner Wicked Witch of the West dolls. They're HUGE (about 16” high) and they're wearing very accurate replicas of the 1939 costume designs. Really pretty. Then, the other day, one of my co-workers who knows I love the Wizard of Oz gave me a chibi Tin-Man toy from a McDonald's Happy Meal! I'm not really fond of fast food, but these I absolutely love and find a need to collect as well! I'll get friends to buy them for me xD!

Anyway, as part of my Oz-tastic year, I finally had a chance to accomplish something I've been wanting to check for years and years off my Oz list! This last October I went to Mexico City to handle some personal business and heard on the radio that WICKED, the Broadway Musical was going to be in town! I came across this show a long, long time ago (I remember seeing flyers for it in Japan back in 2007) and I'm very familiar with the songs “Popular” and “Defying Gravity” thanks to random video searches on YouTube. So, yeah, I was pretty familiar with the production and when I heard it was going to be opening in the days I was in Mexico, it was pretty obvious where my fate laid. My mom, brother and his wife came along too; the three of us have already gone to a bunch of other musicals together, so they were happy to join in for this one.

This blog is normally about things that I'm in love with or collect, but in this case, I just want to get some stuff off my chest. WICKED is undoubtedly the most spectacularly gorgeous stage production I have ever-ever seen. Seriously, I don't think my senses have ever been so delighted for such a prolonged stretch of time. No detail was overlooked; Music, score, voices, acting, dialogues, costumes, light work, scenography, choreography, and everything else you could think of. However, my disappointment unfortunately comes from the root, the most basic of things: The plot. It sorta felt like this whole performance was the most gorgeous woman in existence. Her hair is perfect, her eyes are breathtaking, her skin is flawless, her makeup is stunning and her red lips are magnificent. But what good does all her perfection do to her if she did not care to wash her teeth for weeks! This is exactly what WICKED was to me. It's maddening and disappointing that the source material for this play got so many things wrong.

Before starting my rant, let me paint a little portrait for you (color coded for easy following!) :

The Emerald City (The Wizard of Oz)

The land of Oz is a wonderful magical place which is only accessible via natural disaster. Dorothy gets there by tornado, by hurricane, or by earthquake. Oscar (the wizard) gets there in his hot-air balloon via wind storm. It is a very colorful place where animals talk and magic abounds everywhere. Every corner of the territory is ruled by witches/wizards. At the North, the Good Witch (unnamed. UPDATE: her name is Locasta according to a play Baum later adapted). At the South, Glinda, also a good witch, the Wicked Witch of the West (unnamed) and the Wicked Witch of the East (also unnamed). They each have either a reign of peace or a tyranny of terror over their own lands. At the center lies the Esmerald City, where the King has died and was replaced by Oscar (Oz) and he banished the true heiress from the kingdom.

When Dorothy arrives, her house accidentally kills the Wicked Witch of the East (who was the evil tyrant subjecting the Munchkins to slavery), meets the Scarecrow who gives a vivid description of how he was stuffed with hay and nailed on the pole. We get a gruesome description of how the Tin Man was chopped limb by limb as a human and eventually replaced piece by piece with the tin limbs. I can't quite remember the Lion's story, but all three of Dorothy's companions end up as rulers of different countries. The Scarecrow becomes the new temporal king of the Emerald City, The Tin Man becomes king of the land of the East and the Lion becomes King of the forest. It is pretty much a happy ending for all of them all and the witches, who were evil and abusive towards their people were destroyed.

Being a fan of the series, I'm 100% open to an alternate story; the more I get to stay in this wonderful land, the better! A fan fiction (yes, the novel WICKED is pure fan fiction) with a twist in the plot where Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the West were once friends, certainly get my attention. It's always interesting to get to see how and why the witches become wicked. I'm all for it! But honestly, this story was handled very poorly. This is what old school Star Wars fans must of felt when the prequels -Episodes I, II, and III- came out in theaters and ruined the whole thing for them.


First and foremost, I cannot, for the life of me, figure out WTF the dragon had to do with any of this. Not with the WICKED story, not with the Wizard of Oz movie, not with the Oz the Great and Powerful movie, not with the rest of the books I've read so far. WHAT IS THIS DRAGON!? It is the very first thing you see once you walk into the theatre and is activated at the climactic points of the story. No idea. It's cool, but it has nothing to do with anything. oO!

Anyway, onto the plot.

Let me just remind you that I'm a Twilight fan. Going back to a High school setting isn't exactly a new thing for me, but I just don't think it works in every single magical world. It doesn't even make much sense. Would it make sense to you to return Frodo, Sam, Pippin or even Gandalf or Legolas from Lord of the Rings to stupid High school? NO! In their world there is no such thing, nor is there any need for a school setting whatsoever. Furthermore, it would never make any sense to make Frodo and Sauron high school BFFs, would it? NO! Why would they degrade such an amazing series to an average angsty teenage drama? I have the same problem with Oz.

Lets move past that and get into other strange parts of the plot. Why would they make the Wicked Witch of the East a.k.a. Nessarose wheelchair bound? (I hear that in the WICKED novel she doesn't have arms! I'll get into this later). I'm not sure what they're trying to do, but it makes us feel for her and empathize the sisters, when in reality, the original Oz novels clearly tell us she is a terrible terrible witch who is excessively cruel to the Munchkins. It's hard to sympathize, y'know....

Other than that, I think I've come to terms accepting Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the West Elphaba as best friends. If we're going to take that road, then I'll just have to get on board. It's pretty cool that they made Elphaba powerful from the get go. We can clearly see why she was the way she was. Her past gave her years and years of reasons why she was a hurt, distressed being and -according to this musical- never was entirely evil. I definitely buy into this background story more than I did the “Oz, the Great and Powerful” movie version WWW crapfest they came up with. A simple heartbreak corrupted her and then she then went on an villainous spree like whut? Noooo.

We learn she was green and powerful because in reality she was the daughter of Oscar, a child of two worlds (the human world and Oz). While this was an extremely GOOD thing to do to the story (it's a very interesting twist that I did enjoy), I still don't think it makes any sense. Originally the witches were already there when Oscar arrives, it's confusing that he has fathered one of them. Elphaba's mother drank some potion to avoid Nassarose being born green like her sister, but it backfired and she instead was born paralyzed. This is another interesting twist to the mix I did enjoy. The magic shoes (OMG THEY ACTUALLY MADE THEM SILVER!!! YAAAY!) were to make her walk. It's also a clever way to give them importance, since in the books they don't really go in too deep as to what kind of magic the silver slippers posses other than taking Dorothy home.

But two things I could not handle at all:

1) The entire WICKED storyline and key plot elements revolve around the fact that Elphaba is green. In actuality, the novels never describe any of the witches being green at all! EVER! The reason Elphaba is green in the 1939 movie is the same reason why the Ruby slippers are red and not silver. Technicolor was a shinny new toy MGM Studios had acquired and they wanted to show it off! By making the boring grayish shoes a dazzling tone of RED and by making the witch and her minions an almost neon shade of GREEN, they were sure to impress audiences and competitors alike! So yeah, the WWW was never actually green! Making that a key point in the play is just plain weird.

2) WICKED offers us alternate explanations as to how the Lion, the Tin-Man and the Scarecrow came to existence. I don't want to go into details here, but they basically decided to ignore BASIC CANON that comes out in the VERY FIRST BOOK. All this just confirms my theory that the novelist (Gregory Macguire) wrote the book solely based on the 1939 movie, without even bothering to read or even consult the first book... (BTH tho, I didn't bother to read his novel before the musical either :p). And even then! There are still things that don't make sense! Like, why would the WWW set fire to the Scarecrow, even when she knew who he really was (the man she loved!).

Now on to the positive, because yes, there is so much positive stuff to this production in spite of obvious plot holes. Like I said before, WICKED is the most gorgeous thing I have ever seen on stage. The visual elements that construct the feel of Oz truly have their own identity. The 1939 movie was riding the actual wave of art Deco, whereas the Oz the Great and Powerful movie tried so spice it up with a nod to the deco style even added a tiny hint of... eeerrr... Victorian/Steampunk (?) But this Musical only took only slight influences of deco and bent it around to form their own surreal version of it!

Every single backdrop and prop used was stunning! Lighting was also a huge part of the set, particularly at the Emerald city, where it was just shinning and adorned with hundreds lights of twinkling green. Also, most of the scenes had some kind of circular shape framing the set or used as props. Sometimes it was Glinda's bubble, sometimes a giant clock in the background, other times it was large gears, or a glowy aura around the city of Oz, or just a round cut-out shape around people, or tiny things like Oz logo, a microphone or circles drawn on a chalk board. I'm not exactly sure what it symbolizes (this story doesn't represent an eternal cycle .....or DOES IT?), but it gave it a visual consistency that tied the whole thing together.

The costumes!!! OMG, THE FREAKING COSTUMES!!! It doesn't matter how much I describe them to you, they are simply amazing! Every piece, every detail, every last hat, neckpiece, wig, dress, coat and shoe, everything was designed meticulously and crafted to perfection. Being the huge sucker for sparkles that I am, Glinda's dress had me in awe 90% of the time. SO PRETTY!!! I've never seen so much sparkle (pics and video do not do it justice). Even Elphaba's plain ol' black frock was cool looking. It's so amazing that even the random people of the Emerald city had such ostentatious clothing. I LOVE IT!

Oh , can I just point here a couple of amazingly accurate things I found incredibly delighting? First off, the Ruby slippers were indeed SILVER. YAYAYAYAYYYY!!! And second, everybody was wearing green spectacles in the Emerald City, AS THEY SHOULD BE!! YES YES YESSSSS!!! I loved this detail and I will fangirl it to the end of time.


I won't go into the performances and the adaptation to Spanish because in every country it's different. Needless to say, the actresses they chose are amazing! Cecilia de la Cueva and Ana Cecilia Saldúa obviously are very well prepared and talented enough to be chosen for the iconic roles that require an enormous voice power and acting skills to fill in the shoes of Cheno and Mendel. They acted out and sang every famous song just in the right tone and pitch. The translation was pretty accurate and well edited to fit in the melody, so it wasn't at all painful to hear "Popular" in Spanish, which I am very relieved to say. It was very, very cool.

Here is a video behind the scenes of the main Mexican actresses getting ready for their roles:

Finally the merch. Weeeeeell, I don't know what to say about the merch. I had seen previously some of the cute things the Playbill Store has for WICKED , and when I saw the souvenir shop, I was quite disappointed there wasn't anything I liked. As an avid Wizard of Oz collector, I was hoping to add some cute/interesting pieces to my shelf, but in Mexico there isn't really a big collecting culture that would push retailers to produce cute merch. The little boutique only had a few tote bags, umbrellas, pictures, shirts and caps. Pretty standard stuff. Check out the counter... isn't is super sad looking? xD

In conclusion, despite being utterly frustrated with the story (At one point I flat out started yelling "Oh no!! C'mon!! NOOO!" because of some changes and my brother was just staring at me like WTF!? XDDDD), I have to say I'm very very happy with it as a production. It's well staged, well acted, well sung, and well designed. There were shinny things everywhere during the play (Cycyn bait) and there was and incredible sense of grandeur throughout. I really respect the work that was put behind this. If only.... IF ONLY the source novelist had read the Oz boks before writing it, It would be perfect. Maybe I'm just being extra critical, but it's mostly because I love this story. 

If you ever have a chance to see this musical, you totally should. It's one of the MUST-SEEs in one's lifetime, much like watching the Titanic movie. HAha! I don't usually rate things on my blog, I just ramble on about them, but if I had to, I'd definitely give it 4.5 out of 5 flying brooms.

So yaaaay! WICKED off my bucket list! n.n

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