The other night we decided to take in a show. Not just any show, mind you, but a musical. That alone should be a bit of a warning to you. It’s not every day that we go see something different, and it’s an even stranger occurrence that we check out a musical. The last show we saw was Mamma Mia! when it came to town last year (not reviewed, since we had seen it already), but before that it was likely Tryst nearly two years ago. That’s not to say that we don’t see shows – they just don’t bring ones to Charlotte that we’d like to see all that often.
So we decided that we’d see the touring production of Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz. Billed as What Happened Before Dorothy Arrived, that is only partly true – in fact, Dorothy arrives near the end of the show. So if you’re expecting a history lesson on Oz, you only get a sampling of that. In reality, you do get a bit of background, and it’s well-woven into the tapestry of the earlier tale (which actually takes place after this one), but it’s not like it took place years and years before this one. Just be prepared. Other than that, it’s not too bad, but make sure you see it at a good venue.
For instance, we saw it at Ovens Auditorium. That in itself isn’t bad – I’ve seen a number of performances there, and most are good. But this one wasn’t. You could either chalk that up to a problem with the sound system, a poorly executed traveling show, or both. I’m not really sure which to say was at fault here. The leads did a fine job, the problem was with the supporting cast. Whenever there was an ensemble number performing, it was nearly impossible to make out whatever it was that they were going on about, so I found myself looking forward to the standard dramatic bits, or the parts sung by only one member of the cast. Luckily, that was most of the show.
As to the show itself, the story was good. It took a while to get going, as it was told in the inside-out fashion that’s so popular in movies these days. We started with the ending, and then were taken back to the beginning to find out how it all started, and then were brought forward. Since there wasn’t really any back-and-forth, it probably could have been done from the beginning and just made more sense that way. There was really little need to start and the end and go back, other than as an introduction, and a decent director could have overcome that bit fairly easily. As it was, it was a bit confusing. But once that part got started, things moved, albeit slowly.
As the young Glinda (the “good” witch) and Elphaba (the “wicked” witch) go through school and quickly find that things aren’t always as they seem, and the world has its own ways of making things work, no matter what they think should be done, we are treated to various introductions along the way, which slows down the production tremendously. I found that the best parts of the entire show were at the end of the acts – both the first and the second. There was just too much going on in the rest of the show, but as the acts closed, the action picked up, and so those parts were interesting.
Only at the end does Glinda throw off her “good” witch mantle and show that she is more than meets the eye, but by then it’s too late for Elphaba. Or maybe it’s not.
Still, it’s a bit too long in the tooth, and with the poor sound, the performance just wasn’t worth it for me. Maybe in another location it would have been better. There were plenty of people snatching up all sorts of goodies at the souvenir stand, but I wasn’t one of them. So maybe I just missed the whole point of it. I was definitely impressed with how the characters were intertwined with the standard Oz story that we all know, but that’s about it.