REVIEW- Wicked – Broadway San Jose

This certainly isn’t Wicked’s first rodeo, but it is San Jose’s first time hosting the show (thanks to Broadway San Jose) and it has infused the city with an excitement and energy that suits our town very well.

The show without doubt is an incredibly visual feast as well as a layered metaphorical journey. The struggles and themes themselves are foreshadowed and displayed throughout the book, lyrics, musical motifs and even physically reflected amongst the detailed technical design. With more intricately moving pieces than I have seen in just about any show (literally think the gears and inner workings of a giant clock), and with an Oz-sized dose of stage wizardry, including projections, rigging, special lighting, and whimsical costuming, this show does a magical job of being both large-scale, large budget and intimate, whispered emotive theater. It is without a doubt a mechanical masterpiece of a vehicle for the ultimate human story.

Without being too overly preachy the political “real” problems of this piece (which make up WAY more of the source book) drive the plot forward while still delivering judicious, hopeful (albeit somewhat poignant) resolutions. There are a lot of messages in this well-crafted piece, a lot of take-aways that speak to many people on a lot of different levels resulting in the reality that this show appeals to a large (understatement) demographic.

I think I was most surprised by the amount of humor in the show, especially that which is derived from homages to the original film, original Oz books, the Wicked book obviously, and even some nods to the genre of musical theater itself. Again, a great example of how deeply crafted this piece is, how many iconic and original threads it pulls from to weave into its magical fabric. Though some of the songs are fundamentally better than others (and some just performed better) and the pacing is a bit slow to get started, the show builds grandly and has its share of show stoppers.

The star in this touring production for me was Glinda. She had me (and the entire house) with a single exasperated bed flop. Her comic timing was right on par with Kristin Chenoweth (who originated the role on Broadway) and she possesses this exceptionally charismatic humorous flare reminiscent of the late, great Madeline Khan. She is silly and shallow and heartfelt and everything this role requires and she is worth every cent of the ticket price alone.

But she wasn’t alone. The ensemble was certainly proficient and the supporting cast very credible. And then there was the show’s namesake herself.  Our “Wicked” Witch. I should never be disappointed when I see an understudy’s name handed to me. That trigger reaction has been proven wrong so many times before, I really should know better by now. These are high-quality touring shows and demanding roles and an understudy must be able to rush in at a moment’s notice, a skill that some of even the best cast leading actors don’t always possess. Plus, often times the understudy is fresher, better rested and has an additional boost of adrenaline to carry them through a performance which can  send a new electricity throughout the entire cast. Our Elphaba understudy was wonderful, and while maybe a bit hesitant in some of the harmonies initially with Glinda, I was impressed with her perfect grasp of the characters self-deprecating wit, soulful arc as she maneuvered through change, revelation and acceptance, and her ability to carry the big power numbers. She did not shy away from the meat of the role or the boldness of those notes.

Overall the show is a real success (how many people in 11 years must have tried to say that in a different way, right?)  in delivering on some great storytelling. While I’m not a groupie of the show per se, I do very much appreciate the spectacle, power, wit and charm of this theatrical phenomenon. I can absolutely see why it has cast a spell over so many for so long and why people come back over and over again to see this show.

What is exceedingly concerning about my experience last night was actually one of my fears going into this show. When I saw Wicked in San Francisco several years ago (my only other time seeing it live) I had the single worst experience with a show (and specifically the audience and how the venue dealt with that audience) that I had EVER had. To this day it is still the worst. As a result I’ve never been back to that theater. I FEAR very much that what I feel was an atypical occurrence last Thursday night at the Center for Performing Arts, with ridiculously rude patrons, could negatively impact people’s decision to go to or to return to a show there.  I know I sound a bit hypocritical, but that would be a real shame. I clearly let my bad experience at a venue prevent my return, but having been to so many shows at the CPA, in their defense; it’s usually a very respectful group that attends and a professional, enjoyable experience.

Here are my very raw thoughts with regards to general audience etiquette. If you can’t go 90 minutes or less without eating chips, candy, and crinkling wrappers, maybe live theater is not for you. You have before the show, intermission and after to eat. I do not think you will starve and while it might increase your enjoyment of the show (and the venue’s cash flow assuming they were selling it and you didn’t sneak it in) the people around you will hate you a lot and be very mad at you. 2,600 people (not to mention the actors on stage) did not pay (what for many is no small amount mind you) to hear you talk, eat, spill shit, or to watch you make out or come in late/leave early. This is not your living room so don’t freaking act like it. Prepare a little and try thinking about the others around you if you can’t think about what’s going on on stage, okay? It’s a really good thing that after the first 20 minutes (oh yes it happened 2 more times before the end of the show) of mind-boggling unnecessary and rude distractions from the audience, that I didn’t see a cell phone out or I really would have gone Flying Monkey Ass Crazy on that person. If I need to start a #TheaterMannersWrapperBucketChallenge, I will…if it will help raise awareness…but, seriously people, it can’t be that difficult and it will make a world of difference to the world around you.

While, the show itself gets a solid 4 jewels out of 5 in the review tiara, I was so personally disturbed by this particular audience, I just can’t ignore that they unfortunately, really affected my enjoyment of the night. I’m hoping this was an isolated incidence or that in the worst case scenario, some adjustments are made to prevent and regulate any similar episodes by the venue. Based on Thursday night, to be fair, I gotta knock it down to at least 3 ½ jewels. Wicked plays through September 14th at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.

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