I found this musical through a series of random events, starting many years ago when my remote surfed me to a PBS pledge week special where this adorable blonde pixie was singing the theme from Leonard Bernstein's Candide in front of a full orchestra in the most startlingly clear coloratura voice. Completely blew me away. We're talking what is probably the most difficult piece of music in the musical theater repertoire being performed not only flawlessly, but with charm and personality and grace by someone who could easily have made it big on looks alone.
It took me a day or three to find out her name - Kristen Chenoweth. Of course I started searching the web for her work, but there wasn't much out there - two not very exciting CDs, Let Yourself Go and As I Am, which I bought, but they didn't come close to the challenging stuff I saw on that TV show. She was in the 1999 revival of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, but she only has one song on there.
Time passes, I'm channel surfing again, and hear that distinctive soprano voice in the middle of Hopelessly Devoted from Grease. The scene is a diner at closing time, but as the camera pulls back to show the outside of the diner, it's shaped like a pie. I'm watching Pushing Daisies. Which not only gets me hooked on that series, it also starts another Amazon search to find out what else Kristen has been up to.
Which is when the original Broadway Cast Album of Wicked pops up. Of course I buy it. It actually stayed on the CD rack not listened to until another random happenstance. My TV is my alarm clock, and this one morning it's tuned to The Today Show and there is a bed in the middle of the street in NYC, and on the bed are Kristen and someone green. The smarmy male announcer introduces the green woman as Idina Menzel, and the number is Popular from Wicked. It's all Kristen, this number, green woman is just a prop. The number is quirky and cute and hilarious and not nearly as easy to sing as Kristen makes it look.
So I broke out the CD and gave it a real listen. Maybe 20 times. Steven Schwartz's music and lyrics are mostly good, often brilliant. Kristen and Idina are both amazing. Joel Grey (the original MC from Cabaret) is less bumbling than I'd expect the Wizard to be, but blame the script.
Which is where I'm torn.
The hype is that this show is the story of what happened in Oz before Dorothy got there. The green woman is the Wicked With of the West as a young lady. Kristen is Glinda the Good Witch of the North, whose original name is Galinda, with an extra "a". The wicked witch is named Elphaba. The plot of Wicked has Elphaba and Galinda as college roommates who overcome their differences to become best friends. And since it's a musical, romance and jealousy tears them apart, turning Elphaba wicked and Galinda into Glinda The Good.
I've read the Oz books, most of them, and there is no Elphaba in them. The four witches are sisters (one for each point on the compass). In the books, Glinda is actually the elderly witch of the South, the Billie Burke character in the movie kind of combined the two. The witch of the East is killed by Dorothy's house, the witch of the west has no name. There is no college for aspiring witches (blame Ms. Rowling for the idea, I bet), the Wizard is not a corrupt piece of slime, and there are no munchkin boys showing up on a witch's dance card. Long complaint short, the story this musical is based on is a load of crap. It reminds me a lot of Jekyll & Hyde, The Musical which keeps the names found in the original story, adds romance and love conflicts which are not in the original, and swaps characters around wholesale. But they both have a great score, and most audience members never read the original anyway.
Some of the lyrics I like:
The Wizard and I (sung by Elphaba)
Do you think the Wizard is dumb?
Or Like Munchkins, so small-minded?
And though I'd never show it
I'd be so happy I could melt!
What is this Feeling (Elphaba & Galinda)
What is this feeling?
Fervid as a flame
Does it have a name?
For your face
Ev'ry little trait, however small
Makes my very flesh begin to crawl
Though I do admit it came on fast
Still I do believe that it can last
And I will be loathing
My whole life long
Dancing Through Life
Dancing through life
Skimming the surface
Gliding where turf is smooth
Life's more painless
For the brainless
Don't be offended by my frank analysis
Think of it as personality dialysis
Celebrated heads of state or
Specially great communicators
Did they have brains or knowledge?
Don't make me laugh!
They were popular!
I'm Not That Girl
Wishing only wounds the heart
You'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have rewritten mine
by being my friend
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good.
Another way I'm torn is Wicked is in SF right now, playing at the Orpheum, and I would love to see it. I know I won't be seeing Kristen and Idina, but there's a lot of talent out there, I may not be disappointed. However... orchestra seats are $225. The cheapest non-obstructed-view seat comes to more than $100 with the obscene $11 ticketmaster service charge. Those numbers are beyond "support the arts" and well into "become a patron", IMHO. I'll be getting a bonus at work next Friday, basically an extra half-month's pay. I've already blown some of it on a Nikon lens, maybe a trip to the theater will be in the cards after all.