What makes Wicked Broadway’s biggest blockbuster? Is it truly the pinnacle of live theatre, with a fascinating story, amazing music, deeply moving performances and the most elaborate stage magic ever created?
The short answer is no. Walking into the lobby of the Jubilee, which currently houses the second tour of Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz, feels more akin to entering Rexall Place before a rock concert—the first thing you see is a long table of grossly overpriced T-shirts and various other merchandise. It’s certainly not the usual sight before a play, but OK—this is Wicked, after all. They have to pay for all those prime-time commercials somehow.
Wicked is a very loose adaptation of Gregory Maguire’s 1995 eponymous novel, and also draws heavily from other entries in the canon of works set in the world of Oz, including the 1939 film as well as L Frank Baum’s original 1900 novel. Adaptation is necessary when converting any story to a different medium, but for Wicked‘s play, writer Winnie Holzman chose the route of a predictable and safe Hollywood-style love triangle whilst gutting almost all of the gritty sociopolitical commentary that made Maguire’s novel so compelling.
There’s no denying the calibre of Wicked‘s expertly crafted set-design (by Eugene Lee), lighting (by Kenneth Posner) and sound (by Tony Meola), and especially its gorgeous costumes (by Susan Hilferty). Kara Lindsay is charmingly hilarious as the ditzy but well-intentioned popular girl (and later, Good Witch) Glinda, while Laurel Harris’ vocal prowess as the brooding, awkward Elphaba (aka the Wicked Witch) is unquestionable.
Wicked has all the glitz and glamour that you’d expect from a show of this stature, and the professional cast of performers tackle their roles adeptly. But under all of these fancy trappings, Wicked is hollow. Plot holes abound, Stephen Schwartz’s music is melodious but generic, and the story’s preoccupation with romance leaves precious little time (despite a three-hour runtime) to explore the narratives with actual weight, such as the struggles of Oz’s animal denizens and the wizard’s tyranny. Wicked is simply too melodramatic to deliver any real emotional clout.
Edmonton is a theatre town, with a hugely diverse and high quality roster of plays appearing regularly on local stages. Wicked is a show that gets thousands of non-theatre-goers to shell out hundreds of dollars for tickets. I can only hope that a fraction of these people will proceed to seek out our city’s other live theatre shows—at a fraction of the cost.