April 19, 2007

Ding Dong!

And back we went to the Dallas area for another evening of live entertainment. This time it was Wicked, first published as book over ten years ago before emerging as a Broadway musical in 2003. Wicked is a fun, clever deconstruction of The Wizard of OZ from the perspective of the witches.

The scene opens with Glenda the Good confirming rumors of the happy demise of the Wicked Witch of the West (Elpheba hereafter). One bold citizen asks if it is also true that Glenda and Elpheba were once friends, and the remainder of the story operates via flashback as we explore the development of these two characters (who first meet at school) leading up to the infamous melting. Along the way, the story tweaks the origins of Dorothy's beloved traveling companions and offers plenty of cool twists and turns, particularly for those familiar with the original plot.

The sets and costumes . . . actually, the entire atmosphere . . . in this production are enchanting and fantastical. The choreography is lively and fun to watch. Most of all, though, the music is pure magic. Probably nearly half of the songs are "my favorite," and even the ones that aren't are really good. I would say that the music is much stronger in the first act than it is in the second (particularly in terms of the finales of each). However, the second act is where the plot kicks into high gear, and it has some of the best non-musical sections.

Of the eight songs I find the most enjoyable, six appear in the first act (and four of those are in the first half of the first act). The second act songs are a lot more about plot development, while those in the first act are more about character development. This is an almost inevitable failing, I suppose, but it is a failing nonetheless. All of the music is good, as I say, but nothing from the second act is stuck in my head right now.

I have to admit that I have a certain fondness for deconstructive reimaginings of familiar stories. Till We Have Faces is, of course, my favorite C.S. Lewis book, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is one of my favorite movies (yes, I know it's a play . . . I've never seen it staged). Drawing a relatively minor character out into the limelight and using their perspective to cast a new light on a series of events has got to be one of the most fun exercises in speculative fiction.

Wicked is actually surprisingly similar to Till We Have Faces in many ways, come to think of it. A comparison/contrast between the characters of Orual and Elpheba would probably yield rich results. Both undergo somewhat parallel transformations over the courses of their lives, rejecting the powerful authorities they had once revered. Both have what could be classified as "destructive love" for the people they care about. Throwing these analogous elements into sharp contrast, though, would be the way in which they are viewed and handled within the context of their respective stories. There are obviously very different worldviews at work here, and thematically the priorities are not the same.

Speaking of themes, Wicked explores some very interesting territory. Okay, sure, at its heart I think it boils down to a rather frivolous musical, but there's still a lot going on here. Wicked examines prejudice, honesty, and whether virtue is more than skin-deep. Most of all, though, Wicked is about historiography. Okay . . . not really. Still, it is very aware that history is often, as Napoleon said, "the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon." Or, in this case, the version that people in charge have decided to agree upon.

Actually, what struck me the most was that the difference in perspective between The Wizard of OZ and Wicked comes down to the difference between the way a child (Dorothy) sees things, and the way an adult sees them. Dorothy is an ingénue, and as such she believes that people who are nice to her are good people and people who aren't are wicked people. She cannot tell the difference between the truth and an artful lie (which we already know is the wizard's specialty), and she is very easy to take advantage of.

With that assumption in place, it is not very difficult to believe that this story is more realistic than the other. Wicked simply takes the fantasy material and tacks on the reality that good and evil are rarely as clearly defined as we would like outside of . . . well, fantasy.

Posted by Jared at April 19, 2007 11:59 PM | TrackBack