I have never written a review of a theatrical performance, live concert, or performance art before. However, I was so moved by Wicked last night that I felt the need to talk about here in a bit more detail than just by saying, "I loved it!"
We arrived at The Oriental Theatre at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in Chicago and, early on, I was blown away by the beauty of the place. I love old theaters and this is definitely one of the prettiest I have seen. I love going to the old theaters (be they old by age or by design) and just stare at the craftsmanship in the place. From the curtains and the ornate ceilings to the statues and grotesques that adorn nearly every free nook. I love it. This place was no different.
Enough about the theater. You want to hear about the play. You should be okay reading this entire recap. I'm not including anything that is really a spoiler of any sort. Heck, I knew most of this going in.
Basically, Wicked tells the story of Glinda and Elphaba, two young women living in two completely different worlds yet sharing one common land... Oz. You know each, respectively, as the Good Witch of the North and the Wicked Witch of the West.
Glinda is a prissy blonde debutante who is accustomed to having her whole life go her own way, regardless of the consequences on others. Elphaba was born the green-skinned, bastard daughter of the Governor of Munchkinland. She has quite a few issues with the highest on her list being her inability to figure out where she fits in with the world. Since her father does not love her (some big daddy issues here), he dotes on Elphaba's younger sister, Nessarose, who was left paraplegic during birth.
When Nessarose is sent off to finishing school at Shiz University in Oz, Elphaba goes with her to be her caretaker and, if time permits, she may attend classes as well. However, on their first day at school, a housing misassignment leaves Elphaba rooming with Glinda. Elphaba and her subsequent outburst, in which her sister's wheelchair goes for a self-propelled spin, catch the eye of the headmistress who decides to see to her education and the refinement of her inborn magic skills personally.
As would be expected, the pairing of Elphaba and Glinda is disastrous. The two are complete opposites and don't get along at all. Glinda aspires to be nothing more than a social queen bee while Elphaba is working at making the world a better place.
Enter Fiyero, a bit of a rabblerouser of the male variety who instantly catches Glinda's eye.
Despite her detestation of Glinda and, consequently, Fiyero, Elphaba finds herself drawn to him in a way neither can explain and neither want to pursue because, during a moment of social faux pas, Glinda actually helps Elphaba and the two have since started to become fast friends. A friendship that lasts until the very end.
But, dark times are ahead for the people of Oz. Animals and people, who have been living harmoniously together for generations, are being torn apart. Animals are being denied the right to speak their mind, or speak entirely. And Elphaba, long the animal activist, takes it on herself to see that this is changed before it's too late. And the only way to do that is to earn an audience with the great and powerful Wizard of Oz.
That's enough of the story, I would hope. I didn't really ruin anything that you couldn't read elsewhere. Much of the surprise was not even touched upon. Trust me on that one.
But what really surprised me was just how incredible the performers in this show truly are.
The supporting cast was a true joy. From Fiyero and Bocq and Nessarose to the headmistress and the Wizard all the way down to the flying monkeys. I enjoyed them all.
For our show, the role of Glinda was being performed by her understudy, Sarah Jane Everman. If Sarah was the understudy, I would hate to see the primary actress... she was awesome. She had the mannerisms and voice of the prissy Glinda down pat. And she had a great voice to boot. If you'd like a bit of a visual aid, think Jennifer Finnigan from the short-lived NBC sitcom Committed meets Reese Witherspoon's Elle Woods in Legally Blonde.
But the highlight of the performance was SNL's Ana Gasteyer as Elphaba.
I have only seen her in a handful of roles -- Mean Girls, What Women Want, and Woman on Top -- as I never was a watcher of SNL during her term. So I truly had no idea what kind of an actress she really was.
This performance was everything George Bush promised in the War on Terrorism but never delivered... shock and awe. Ana was INCREDIBLE!
She owned this role. From her dry wit and biting sarcasm as the put-upon daughter and student to her unending caring and compassion for her incapacitated sister to her confusion and frustration over her meteoric rise as the misunderstood scourge of Oz.
This show was all about Ana and she shined. After each act, Katie and I would just stare at each other in complete awe. There is no other word to really describe it. We were amazed.
Do I recommend this show? With no reservation whatsoever.
See it. See it twice. I know I want to see it again. Even Katie, who wasn't sure if she really wanted to see this (yes, believe it or not, I am the musical theater person in this pairing), is willing to go back for a second shot of Wicked.