it’s time to try defying gravity
Some people were raised on rock ‘n’ roll, and while I was to a point, too, I was mostly raised on musical theater. My grandmother was always involved in some drama guild or other, and during the years we spent living with her, our bedtime stories were told through Broadway showtunes and our Saturday afternoons were spent watching all four hours of The Fiddler on the Roof on VHS or watching Gypsy on TV over and over again.
The summer nights we spent attending performances at Cincinnati Young People’s Theater eventually translated, for me, into a love of performing and being on stage. I was never very good of an actress, or a singer, or a dancer, but in high school, I joined the drama club and belted my heart out in musicals and tried not to screw up my few lines in the fall play. In college, I played a character named Whitney who was an alcoholic and sufferer of PTSD in an anti-war dramatic reading of A Piece of My Heart. But being in drama was never about acting for me, it was about being a part of something that has the power to really, really touch people.
Last night, after more than a year of waiting, I finally saw Wicked at TPAC’s Andrew Jackson Hall. I was familiar with the music, familiar with the story, and familiar with all the praise and rave reviews it’s received since it opened on Broadway six years ago. I would have seen it last September at the Aronoff in Cincinnati, in the front row no less, if our tickets hadn’t been for the same night I was moving to Nashville. So instead, I bought two tier level tickets for my mom’s birthday and last night, we took our red velvet seats four rows back in the first tier.
All the praise and esteem and expectactions I had going in were completely blown out of the water. The sets! The costumes! The lighting! The choreography! The . . .everything! Everything about this musical far exceeded all the hope I had for it.
From Glinda’s floating bubble to the flying monkeys to Elphaba’s show- and heart-stopping flight to the gorgeousness of the Emerald City, it was all so overwhelming. I was crying by the end of Elphaba’s first solo, “The Wizard and I”, just from the sheer talent and range of Marcie Dodd’s voice. To say I was paralyzed with joy is an understatement, but every single scene brought something more amazing than the last and it was impossible to look away, even for a moment.
The story was so much sadder and more interesting than I imagined it would be. And knowing my penchant for tragic heroes, I was on Elphaba’s side from the beginning. And though the quote that opens this post comes from a conversation between Fiyero and Elphaba about beauty, the cool thing is that it’s completely representative of the whole story. Wicked isn’t a lie about the Wicked Witch of the West, it’s looking at what wickedness really is. Glinda asks, “Are people born wicked, or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?” And the story of Wicked gives a very clear answer to that question.
I posted to Twitter at intermission that I had already been blown away. A lot of that had to do with the fact that Act I’s closing scene, “Defying Gravity” was so powerful and visually stunning that my bones were shaking in time to the music and Elphaba’s grand exit practically made my head explode. Even now, just listening to the soundtrack, I’ve got chills. If tonight’s closing show wasn’t sold out, I’d happily pay to go again.
I tried to read Gregory Macguire’s novel awhile ago, but didn’t give it much of an effort. Last night’s show has encouraged me to try it again. I know there are differences, but I like the idea of being able to access the story of the Wicked Witch as I know her now over and over again.
The only thing left to think about is if the rumored film adaptation can possibly compare to the imaginative and beautiful world of Wicked on stage?
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Tags: Andrew Jackson Hall, Broadway, musicals, Nashville, plays, theater, TPAC, Wicked