What: Yes, indeed. My first return visit since Thanksgiving Day, 2003 to the musical based on Gregory Maguire's book about how Elphaba became the Wicked Witch of the West.
And? What's kind of funny to me is I still remember some of my takeaways from 2003, and those opinions still stand:
- The good songs are still so much fun ("What is This Feeling?," "Popular"), the bad songs are just terribly written, and "Defying Gravity" is a fantastic Act One closer. I even cried when Elphaba started flying this time.
- Casting Kristin Chenoweth as the original G(a)linda altered the writing of the show to such a degree that it injured the story by throwing it off-balance -- Glinda has the central change, not Elphaba, and that's a problem that becomes increasingly clear when they no longer have Cheno in the role.
- The ending is such a stupid stupid cheat that makes no sense when you examine it for more than two minutes.
- Damn that's a good show curtain/proscenium.
- The Wizard's songs are so boring. I know I already had a bullet point about songs, but this bears repeating because they are so boring.
- I'm still mad Glinda doesn't come clean to Elphaba about her role in what happens to Nessa. "Then again, I guess we know there's blame to share/And none of it seems to matter anymore" is trying to wash away a pretty big stain.
- That aside, ELPHABA AND GLINDA ARE SO IN LOVE OMG. Fiyero is a beard.
- Overall the machine that is Wicked holds up well. Joe Mantello really is a good director. Wicked is an often mediocre show, but the shape of the thing, the stage pictures, all of it, is so much less crappy than the rushed-to-Broadway Frozen production that recently graced the stage.
- The fact that they didn't build a new silver wig for the Tinman to reflect the hair texture of Jordan Barrow, the Black actor playing him, is lazy and racist.
- I think originally casting Norbert Leo Butz, who always makes interesting and intelligent choices, hid the fact that Fiyero is extremely underwritten; however, this becomes immediately clear when they just cast ingenue men in the role who have less imagination.
- The motif switch of "Unlimited" to "I'm limited" is so piercing and simple and just really really good, and it's frustrating that Stephen Schwartz can do that and also write the nonsense the ensemble has to sing in this show.
- I had forgotten about the song "The Wicked Witch of the East," because it's not on the album. Some cool cool stuff in that song.
- It's nice to see Broadway workhorses Michael X. Martin and Michael McCormick onstage; they're always reliable. Also pleased with the performance of Lindsay Pearce as Elphaba. You'd never know this was her Broadway debut. (Brittney Johnson was out the night I saw it, but her standby Allie Trimm, acquitted herself well enough)
- I'm so glad Avenue Q won for best musical in 2004.
4/20/22: A Strange Loop
What: The Broadway transfer of Michael R. Jackson's ourobouros musical about a Usher, a Black, queer aspiring writer and composer who's writing a musical about a Black, queer aspiring writer and composer writing about ...
And? Still brilliant, though the pacing gets sloppier as the show goes on (not sure if this is deliberate or not, a form-content choice, but it's a little rough on the audience). Jaquel Spivey is wonderful as Usher, with great voice, presence, and timing. The six actors playing Usher's thoughts are all in amazing voice and making great specific choices for each character (special note for James Jackson, Jr.'s timing, John-Andrew Morrison's blindered affection, and Antwayn Hopper's basso voice and physicality). The show samples from the canon in exciting ways (the chorus of voices calling for "Usher" a clear nod to the "Bobbys" of Company, to name just one example) while also having something entirely new to say. Seeing this show (already a Pulitzer-winner) gives me confidence that musical theater can and will continue to thrive, with new voices and ideas expanding the content and palate.
|Jacquel Spivey, center, as Usher, with James Jackson, Jr., Jason Veasey, John-|
Michael Lyles, L Morgan Lee, John-Andrew Morrison, and Antwayn Hopper.
Photo by Marc J. Franklin.