Like everything else in New York City, the theater billboards were obnoxious and intrusive. Latching onto faces of buildings like colorful band aids, they seemed to shout to fascinated passersby, determined to coax crisp green bills out of tourists’ pockets.
These billboards all point to various location points on one of the city’s most famous attractions: Broadway Avenue.
Prior to my visit to the city in February, I had never attended a Broadway production. When I asked my friends for a recommendation, they all unanimously agreed on Wicked. Its popularity among teenage girls is unrivaled.
So just why is it so celebrated? Certainly the “fantastical” elements such as sorcery, princes, and talking animals are attractive to young people. Its Grammy award-winning soundtrack is probably another factor. But underneath its childish exterior lies much more serious themes. The play figuratively portrays the unjust scapegoating of innocent groups by a corrupt government and media and advocates tolerance and acceptance of diversity. It is most relevant to all age and gender groups—a truly universal work of art.
A sort of prequel to the Wizard of Oz, Wicked is a story of an unusual friendship between two young girls–Glinda, a popular, attention-loving blonde and Elphaba, a sympathetic, green-skinned outcast. Despite initial prejudices, both girls come to accept each other’s differences and become friends. The story gives insight into Elphaba’s life, portraying her as her true, and terribly misunderstood self.
Broadway started showing Wicked on December 16, 2003 featuring Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel. The Gershwin Theater has since been specifically adapted for this specific play, equipped with the relevant technology and trap doors to realistically execute all the set changes and character transitions. The entire interior of the building is furnished with Wicked decorations, from wall paper to furniture.
The sheer energy of the actors, from the moment they set foot on stage, was simply astonishing. The actors and actresses occupied space in the theater with purpose and clear intent and seemed to know just where in the airspace of the stage they wanted to place each hair and finger. The powerful vocals coupled with vigorous choreography kept the eyes of the audience glued to the stage. Some memorable songs were: The Wizard and I, I’m Not That Girl, and of course, Defying Gravity. In Defying Gravity, Elphaba was lifted into the air with rainbow-colored lights flashing behind her as she sang. The effect was, well, tear-inducing; the audience erupted into a sniffling applause as the curtains closed for intermission.
The special effects really added to the performance. Thanks to the well-established relationship between the play and its stage, the characters could disappear through the ground, rise to great heights, and hover in air above the audience. It really differentiated this production from other interpretations of the same play by travelling troupes of performers.
More than anything, the production was very professional and altogether believable. The characters acted their part with much emotion and it really touched the audience. There was a palpable connection between those on stage, in the orchestra pit, and in the audience; I was Elphaba in certain scenes, whereas in others I became Glinda. Everything was so well-composed, yet so free of strain.
By the end of the play, I was covered in tears, face red and hands raw from clapping so vigorously. If you have not had the enchanting opportunity to see Wicked yet, I recommend that you follow the yellow brick road to Broadway Ave in Manhattan some day. You will not be disappointed.