Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Most Memorable Theatre Experiences: #8 Wicked

Those who know me well know that  my love for Wicked runs deep and may be surprised that it is not higher on my list of memorable theatre experiences. I think the reason is that I have seen it so many times, it must be 7 or 8 now, so the impact of my initial experience began to fade with each repeat visit. Because of this, I am a strong proponent of only seeing a show once if it has a strong effect on you the first time you see it. I saw Wicked for the first time in 2004 on Broadway. Most of the original cast had left by that time, including my idol Kristin Chenoweth, but Idina Menzel was still playing the role of Elphaba. I didn't know a lot about Wicked the first time I saw it, in fact I didn't know much about Broadway at all. While I had seen a lot of shows on their national tours as a youngster, Wicked was my first true Broadway show. I have a hard time deciphering what I remember from my first time seeing Wicked and what has been filled in by my repeat visits, but I do remember that the song For Good made a very profound impression on me. This representation of a friendship between two women was something that I had never seen in a musical before and it struck me as somewhat groundbreaking. I had the slightest inkling that this message of friendship would touch other people as it had me and that Wicked just might be the next big smash hit on Broadway. Well I think thousands of theatre-goers would agree with me and Wicked has become Broadway's juggernaut, running for 7 straight years to sold out houses at Broadway's Gershwin Theatre as well as several national touring companies, sit down productions in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and several international productions.

I think Idina Menzel said it best in her accetance speech for the 2004 TONY award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for Elphaba when she exclaimed "I'm so proud to be in a show that celebrates women and our strengths and differences." I guess this aspect of the show is what has drawn me back to Wicked at least once a year since 2004. The universal message of friendship and accepting our differences speaks to the heart of every person. There are times in our lives when we relate more to Glinda and there are times when relate more with Elphaba, but nevertheless, we've all had close friendships that have grown from our differences and this show reminds us of how important those relationships truly are. Sure, we've all had our favorite Elphabas and Glindas and while many are still partial to the original cast, I actually prefer Stephanie J Block in the role of Elphaba and have grown to love Annaleigh Ashford's Glinda. But with every cast change on Broadway and around the world, the names of the actresses playing the lead characters become less important and the show itself has emerged as the true star.

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