Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year from 1999 to 2015 my wife Anne and I took a road trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. With my son’s senior year in college imminent and next summer likely to be one of major upheaval for him (Lord willing), the summer of 2016 seemed like a good time to get the old trio back together again for one last family vacation before he heads off into adulthood and forgets we’re still here. In honor of one of our all-time favorite vacations to date, we scheduled our long-awaited return to New York City…
On our first Manhattan foray back in 2011, The Lion King was the first Broadway show we’d ever seen. I’m sure there’re locals and/or hardcore Broadway fans who consider it too populist a choice or whatever, but it was our unanimous decision that didn’t disappoint us in any way imaginable. For our next feature presentation, we once again took our family interests to heart and chose accordingly.
The hardest part about seeing a Broadway show is simply settling on one. Multiple theaters offer myriad choices — some for the whole family, some for discerning adults, most of them presumably with a level of craftsmanship and professionalism that dwarf anything we’ve attended back home in Indiana. We couldn’t see everything, though it’d be a different story if we’d had time and funding to do more. Live theater is nowhere near as affordable as movies even if you go through TKTS and luck into some discount passes.
Back in 2011, Wicked was among the most logical finalists on our short list. My son has been a fan of L. Frank Baum’s Oz novels since childhood, Eric Shanower’s graphic-novel sequels, and a few of Skottie Young’s more recent adaptations for Marvel Comics. We even once attended a Wizard of Oz Festival in northern Indiana, for which we’ve never shared the photos online but probably ought to someday. Checking out its Broadway spinoff-of-sorts made sense.
Lord knows New York City wouldn’t stop foreshadowing our Wednesday matinee with ads for it everywhere. Its presence remains strong thirteen years after opening, the fourth longest-running among those now playing.
The long ride back from the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens left us with precious few minutes for lunch, and not much time to spare by the time we approached the Gershwin Theatre from the east.
None of us have read Gregory Maguire’s original 1995 novel. I knew only that it was one of the grandparents of the modern school of Everything You Know Is Wrong retcon-lit. I knew the original cast included Idina Menzel (Frozen! Enchanted!), Kristin Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies!), and Academy Award Winner Joel Grey (episodes of Buffy and The Muppet Show!). I knew fans adored the music and it won some awards and the big showstopper was called “Defying Gravity”, which I’d seen referenced here and there over the years. Otherwise, we miraculously entered the Gershwin 100% spoiler-free.
The basics for newcomers: Wicked tells the revisionist secret origin of the Wicked Witch of the West, who wasn’t born evil but was born abnormally green-skinned and shunned for it. Her name is Elphaba (a conflation of the initials L.F.B.) and she’s a new student at the same school attended by Glinda the Good Witch, who was born magical and privileged. The two meet, loathe, forgive, and become good friends until everything goes awry. Yadda yadda yadda, and that’s how the Wicked Witch of the West came to be and then died from surprise showering. Or maybe that’s what The MAN wants you to think.
As Broadway know-nothings my wife and I recognized just one name in the cast, Peter Scolari (TV’s Bosom Buddies! Newhart!) as the Wizard of Oz himself. Our July 2016 Playbill indicates the main cast included Rachel Tucker as Elphaba, Carrie St. Louis as Glinda, and Tony Award Winner Judy Kaye as Madame Morrible, the school headmistress. I’m sadly familiar with none of them, but I’m noting them here for the sake of historical documentation in case we ever see any of them again.
Our somewhat uninformed capsule review: in general we were sufficiently blown away, albeit with a few asterisks. Our seats were so far away that, until it was brought up for the sake of a clichéd gag, I had no idea Elphaba was wearing glasses. One aspect of the final act that had the three of us unanimously cocking an eyebrow and thinking, “…Really?” because sometimes revisionist fun can maybe tangle one knot too many. But the spectacle and production design and music and performances were as bedazzling as expected, though “The Wizard and I” gave me more goosebumps than “Defying Gravity” did.
I thought well enough of the songs that after the show I insisted on waiting in the otherwise all-female line at the merchandise booth to buy a copy of the soundtrack. I’ve no doubt I was the only person in line who still buys CDs. I appreciate their concession for the benefit of olds like me.
Parting was somewhat sorrowful, but it had to be done. The long round-trip to and from Queens, capped with this magical sensation, left us exhausted and ready to return to the hotel. But we lingered in the ambiance for as long as we could.
To be continued!
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