Wicked @ Capitol Theatre 07.20

Posted August 2, 2012 in

Emerald City is a haughty town indeed as the green-garbed townsolk prance onstage.

 I know, what is a Broadway musical review doing anywhere near the SLUG umbrella … There's absolutely nothing "underground" about one of the most record-breaking box office hits ever to grace the stage. After spending a few years obsessed with Gregory Maguire's original novel, and as an old soul with a penchant for anything that draws me closer to the "Singin' In The Rain" era of musicals, there was no way I was passing up the opportunity to check out a musical for the price of a review if they were offering. Now, before you delve any further into this, let me discuss the price YOU might be paying. I had an awesome seat about 15 rows from the front, where my mom and I could make out facial expressions and costume details without having to squint much––looking them up online, I found out those seats run at about $1,000 each for the first few opening nights. I paid slightly more than that for my car, slightly less for my chest piece, and just about a grand for my MacBook––three pretty big investments––and I've never spent anywhere near that much for anything else in the 25 years I've been alive. So, unless your parents own a 9,000 square-foot Park City chalet and invite your spoiled, bleached ass to join them on a musical outing one night, or if you can find a way to sneak past the senior citizens taking tickets at the Capitol Theatre doors, you ain't singing along with Elphaba and the gang live in this lifetime. Fortunately, it looks like prices have gone down to a reasonable $100-plus, depending on your choice of seating. With that said, I raise the curtains and describe to you the splendid sights a $1,000, two-hour Broadway musical was all about. 

The moment I sat down, I knew this production wasn't going to be anything like the many low-budget plays I've sat through at the University of Utah. A large, animatronic dragon perched above the stage, eyes glowing and head shaking, and a map of Oz and its provinces was projected on the red velvet curtain, the Emerald City shimmering in green. The curtains opened soon after, and I became mesmerized by the beautifully constructed set, dark but colorful, like an apocalyptic sunset. I was taking in the details, mechanical cogs and cranks lining the sides, when I finally gave the characters onstage a good look, only to be completely blown away by their costumes. They were singing their own version of "The Wicked Witch is Dead," all in starkly different variations of the same outfit, which I'd describe as 1840s-meets-1920s-meets-2050s with a dash of steampunk. The details of each ensemble, from the crazy hats and hairstyles to shoes too outlandish even for Carrie Bradshaw, were absolutely jaw-dropping. I was so awestruck by the costumes, I didn't bat an eye when Glinda the Good Witch dropped down from above the stage on a globe spewing bubbles. 
Let me interject here with some plot details, because after reading the novel, I wondered how the hell a story as dark and politically heavy as Wicked ended up as a family friendly-musical. There's an interview with Stephen Schwartz, who's the composer and lyricist for Wicked, in the program, in which he states, "I just thought the idea was screaming to be a musical." Really? He must have the imagination of a 5-year-old (well, he IS a Disney composer …). The truth is, Wicked the musical is very loosely based on the novel. Though it catches the gist of the book's plot––the background story of the Wicked Witch of the West, and how she's not so much "wicked" as she is a victim of society––there are some pretty major changes to the story, which dumb it down, G-rate it and allow the audience the satisfaction of a happy ending, which the book definitely does not provide. Because of its deviations from the novel, it's not very fair to watch Wicked the musical with the book and a red pen in your lap––and as soon as I figured that out, I was much happier with the musical's "much happier" disposition. 
Regardless of its sugar-coated plot, there are definitely still some political themes running parallel with the kid-friendly moral. In fact, I couldn't believe how blatantly obvious the animal rights advocacy was being pushed. Elphaba at one point says something along the lines of "A world where animals don't talk would be a horrible one indeed," and the villain of the story, the "Wonderful" Wizard of Oz (who, spoiler alert, is a human from our world) tells Elphaba that he's trying to make Oz like his world––where animals are kept in cages and know their place under humans in the pyramid of life. Of course, as a vegan, I was pretty thrilled to hear all of that, and hope it was intentional. Another politically geared motif that I found somewhat ironic—because I knew that, due to the fact it's Utah, most of the audience was made up of tithe-paying Mormonites—was the questioning of authority. The Wizard is thought of throughout Oz as this powerful, omniscient do-gooder, when in fact, he's spearheading the campaign to take away citizen's rights, increase surveillance and handing out rose-colored glasses so no one sees the ugly truth. Hmm … sounds familiar. 
OK, OK, I'll stop with my own political agenda. Let's talk about the music! This was probably the only real let-down of the show. With how popular the soundtrack is, I had expected the songs and lyrics to hold up to the likes of Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. Instead, the lyrics were pretty shallow and the music behind them wasn't memorable enough for me to recall any of the tunes at this point. The execution was also not mind-blowing--perhaps it's Schwartz's Disney dabbling, but my mom and I both thought Elphaba (played by Nicole Parker) sounded like an ear-splitting Disney princess––which equals annoying. The acting, however, was top-notch, and hands down, my favorite character was Glinda, played by Alli Mauzey flawlessly. She gave Glinda an absolutely lovable personality, even though the character she played was supposed to be shallow and selfish. From her gestures to her many breathy asides, Glinda provided both the comic relief and drove the plot forward. I know that Elphaba is the lead character of Wicked, but next to Glinda, she was merely supporting. 
Other highlights included the Wizard's (PJ Benjamin) little song and dance, which was starkly different from the other musical numbers––kind of jazzy; the scene in which the monkeys are turned into flying monkeys, because those costumes were crazy good; and Elphaba's makeover musical number, where Glinda shone as she sang "Popular" and got the whole audience laughing.
Overall, I left feeling satisfied and happy I'd finally seen what all the hype was about. The show was entertaining and endearing. There's no doubt Wicked's wicked good, and it's well worth a $100 ticket––just maybe not $1,000.  
Wicked is in Salt Lake at the Capitol Theatre through August 26, with a matinee showing available most weekends. Go to wickedsaltlakecity.com for times and tickets.
Emerald City is a haughty town indeed as the green-garbed townsolk prance onstage. Ephalba and Glinda stretch their ways onboard at the train station to go to Emerald City. What lies behind the foreboding face of the great wizard, Oz? Alli Mauzey killed it in her role as the self-serving Glinda.