Broadway Musical / Places to Visit
 

Wicked and Beyond

By Melissa Minners

 

            After reading Wicked by Gregory Maguire, I became hooked in the world where the Wicked Witch had a name - Elphaba - and her intentions were actually honorable in nature.  The world transformed Frank Baum’s Oz into something completely off the wall and politically, socially and intellectually entertaining.  I read the entire series of books.  Hearing so much about the Broadway musical based on Maguire’s novel, I purchased the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Wicked ,which featured music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a story written by Winnie Holzman, and fell in love yet again.  It became my mission to see the musical in person.  That dream was fulfilled when, for my birthday, a friend of mine presented me with tickets to see Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre.

            Thus, it was off to Manhattan one fine weekend.  Of course, not wanting to ever be late for anything, we arrived super early and had plenty of time to kill.  So, we checked out some new attractions, like the special promenade Mayor Bloomberg set up so that New Yorkers could walk, shop, eat and lounge freely in the streets of the city without the threat of being run over.  Although drivers complain incessantly about having to drive around this area, having worked in Manhattan for a number of years, I can definitely see the appeal.

            We continued walking around and checking the time so we wouldn’t be late to the theater when we saw them - two stores that no self-respecting chocolate lover could ever pass up: the M&M Store and The Hershey Store.  We figured we’d start off with Hershey’s and make our way over to the M&Ms.  Located at 1593 Broadway (on the corner of 48th Street and Broadway), The Hershey Store is a multi-story candy store fully stocked with any Hershey’s creation you can think of and some you never thought existed.  There were your everyday candy bars like Kit Kats, Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, Kisses, Hershey’s Chocolate Bars in every variety, Peppermint Patties, Twizzlers and more.  But then, there were specialty bars - Reeses Peanut Butter Cups the size of an average adult’s fist, Kit Kat bars in dark chocolate, a huge hollow Hershey’s Kiss that, when broken open, revealed tons of regular sized Kisses inside, and so much more.  You could buy decorative tins containing Hershey’s candy, glassware containing Hershey’s candy, mugs containing Hershey’s candy and more.  We walked out with a couple of bags of Twizzler nips and a four-pack of the dark chocolate Kit Kats.

            Then, it was off to the M&M store.  M&M’s World, located at 1600 Broadway, is a multi-story store that doesn’t just feature the candy itself.  In this store, it’s mostly about the souvenir value of M&Ms.  You can get shirts featuring the M&M characters in a variety of situations, including shirts that feature the M&M characters as cast members in Broadway musicals.  Pajamas, shorts, underwear, jackets - any clothing item you can think of can be found here, proudly featuring the world’s favorite candy.  There are Christmas ornaments, knick knacks, collector’s items and more to be had at M&M World.  And then, of course, there’s the candy - every flavor of M&M ever created from milk chocolate to peanut to peanut butter to dark chocolate to pretzel filled featured in every color of the rainbow.  We walked out with a bag filled with a variety of M&M colors and flavors.

            Then, it was time to head over to the Gershwin Theatre.  Of course, who can walk into a musical like this without wanting to bring home a souvenir?  I purchased a cool black t-shirt with the word "Wicked" in green on the front and "Defying Gravity" on the back in white.  My friend got a green water bottle fashioned to look like the bottle of green elixir peddled by the man who would become the father of Elphaba.  Then, since we had some time, I headed over to the bar where the bartender was peddling your average drinks - soda, ginger ale, water - and a few interesting Wicked-themed drinks.  I purchased a Flying Monkey which contained a wee bit of alcohol mixed with fruit punch and Sprite and came in a collectible covered Wicked drinking cup.  Yay, me!

            After that, we filed into the theater, where I discovered that no seat is a bad seat.  We were in the Loge section, but I could see everything perfectly.  The curtain featured a map display of the Emerald City and the various locations pertinent to the story.  I found myself alternating between studying the Playbill and the map while waiting for the musical to begin.

            Then the curtain lifted and we were treated to a musical unlike any other that sets the world of Oz created by Frank Baum on its ear.  We learn that the Wicked Witch was not exactly as wicked as Mr. Baum would have liked us to believe.  That she began her life as Elphaba, an earnest and intelligent young woman with a great deal of passion for the causes she believed in.  We learn how she met Glinda the Good Witch, then known as Galinda “with a Ga”, and how they had become friends while attending the University of Shiz together.  We discover that Elphaba has some interesting powers and learn that there are those who would have her use those powers for evil.  We also learn that the stories we heard about the Wicked Witch of the West were all propaganda released by the Wizard so that he could either capture or destroy her, thereby ridding the world of one of the most vocal oppositions to his reign.  And all of this began because Elphaba believed that all Animals had rights.

            The version of Wicked I had listened to on the soundtrack I owned featured Idina Menzel as Elphaba and Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda, but I was aware that a Broadway musical that has run this long in the theaters was bound to have some casting changes.  This time around, Elphaba was portrayed by Mandy Gonzalez, whose Broadway credits included In the Heights, where she originated the role of Nina Rosario, Lennon, Aida and Dance of the Vampires.  Glinda was portrayed by Katie Rose Clarke who portrayed Glinda for two years during the first national tour of the musical.   Other actors of mention include Kathy Fitzgerald as the evil Madame Morrible, P.J. Benjamin as The Wizard, Andy Karl as Fiyero, Alex Brightman as Boq, Jenny Fellner as Elphaba’s sister Nessarose (later known as the Wicked Witch of the East) and Timothy Britten Parker as Doctor Dillamond.

            Of course, having heard the musical’s soundtrack and being forewarned by friends who had already seen the musical, I was prepared for a story that was similar to, but did not completely follow Magruire’s Wicked.  In this version, we are quickly introduced to Elphaba’s origins.  We then move right into her experiences at Shiz, which according to the musical, she is only attending to assist her invalid sister in her educational advancement.  As in the book, she meets an upperclass, flighty girl named Galinda and the two take an immediate dislike to one another until accident places them together as roommates.  The two grow to appreciate each other’s company, despite their differences in opinion.

            But evil is underfoot in Shiz and all over Oz.  Elphaba learns that all of the Animals (any animal that can talk and walk upright is known as an Animal with a capital A) are being persecuted against, prevented from taking better jobs and treated as nothing more than beasts of labor.  Understanding what it is like to be persecuted against because she is different, Elphaba requests an audience with the Wizard of Oz, hoping to gain his assistance in creating a better world in which Animals and humans can co-exist peacefully.  The Wizard, learning of Elphaba’s unique aptitude in the magical arts, is more than happy to meet with her.  Elphaba invites Galinda to come along.

            Once there, we learn that the Wizard has an ulterior motive for inviting Elphaba.  He wants to use her magical powers for his own special purposes, some of which include keeping Animals in a subservient state.  When Elphaba learns that the man she considered to be a hero is nothing more than a fake with unreasonable prejudices against anyone different, she vows to take the Wizard and his minions down, fighting him every step of the way to earn the equality of all the citizens of Oz.  The Wizard moves quickly to protect his interests, declaring Elphaba to be a Wicked Witch and a traitor.  Elphaba is forced to live underground, striking when and where she can.

            Meanwhile, Glinda (having changed her name in honor of a cause she has no intention of fighting for) has moved up the ladder, receiving special attention from the Wizard and his right-hand woman, Madame Morrible.  She is scheduled to marry, Fiyero, a former partying co-student at Shiz now soldier for Oz, who cares for Glinda but is secretly in love with Elphaba.  Sworn to uphold all that the Wizard stands for, Glinda and Fiyero struggle with their morals as they pursue Elphaba for the good of Oz. 

            We all know what eventually happens to the Wicked Witch of the West in frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz.  Gregory Maguire has a different take on the events and the musical version of Wicked has yet another different take - one much more positive in nature.  In fact, I rather liked the ending of the musical a bit more than Maguire’s ending.  It left no mystery as to Elphaba’s end and was a bit more palatable to Elphaba fans. 

            The musical itself goes a long way in explaining every single character in Frank Baum’s Oz and how they actually came to be.  Unlike the book, the Tin Woodsman, Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow all find their beginnings as main or minor characters in the musical.  I rather liked that idea.  I also liked how the ruby slippers of the Wicked Witch of the East and the cyclone that eventually destroyed her were explained.

            Mandy Gonzalez had some incredibly large shoes to fill in the role of Elphaba and, lets face it, there aren’t a great many singers who can perform the songs in Wicked with such a strong and captivating a voice as that of Idina Menzel.  Yet, despite this, I feel Mandy Gonzalez did an amazing job.  True, the pitch and notes had to be modified a bit to match the singing voice of Gonzalez, but her performance of Defying Gravity was no less enjoyable than that of Idina Menzel’s.  It was simply incredible and the perfect ending to the first half of the musical.  Having never seen anyone else perform in the role of Elphaba, I have to say that Mandy Gonzalez was incredibly believable as the young green woman with intensity and substance and a determination to right the wrongs of the world despite the pain it may cause her in the end.

            Katie Rose Clarke is absolutely hysterical as Glinda, excellently exhibiting her flighty tendencies while perfectly complimenting the vocal prowess of Mandy Gonzalez.  The two sang together in such perfect harmony it was as if it were their destiny to perform together on stage.  Her interpretation of the character of Glinda was spot on, so much so that for days I couldn’t stop imitating the hair toss.  The chemistry between Clark and Gonzalez was electric and their friendship was quite believable.

            I had an incredible time and loved every minute of my Wicked experience, but the night was not over and I was informed that we had reservations at an Italian restaurant called Carmine’s.  Located at 200 West 44th Street in NYC, Carmine’s features Italian cuisine served up family style.  We had eaten at Carmine’s before, so I was prepared for the tight fit that one usually encounters when dining on the first floor in a table for two.  Thus, when the hostess told us that we could head upstairs to the second floor and that our table was already seating, I was a bit confused.  In fact, I was so confused that I almost didn’t recognize the members of my family seated around one of the tables in the quite spacious second floor.  That’s right, I’d been had.  Treated to a terrific Broadway experience, I was now going to be treated to a terrific dinner complete with stuffed mushrooms, antipasto, chicken saltimbocca, chicken parmigiana and, for dessert, a huge ice cream creation called the Titanic. 

            I submit to you the perfect Saturday adventure - an afternoon of perusing the new chocolate stores on Broadway, followed by Wicked, quite possibly the best Broadway musical out there, and top it all off with an evening dining at Carmine’s.  There’s no way my birthday celebration could have gotten any better!

 

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