You may wonder what about the show "Wicked" defied the critical opinion, and the overall odds, to become a long-running smash. Theater and arts critic Misha Berson has a few theories.
When the musical “Wicked” first landed on Broadway, the word on the street about it was not all that encouraging.
Reviews during the tryout run in San Francisco of the show, which focuses on a Good Witch (Glinda) and a Wicked Witch (Elphaba) from the classic L. Frank Baum “Wizard of Oz” books, were just so-so.
As “Wicked” steamed toward New York, the creative team (including composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz and author Winnie Holzman) kept revising. One of the male stars was replaced. Kinks were worked out of the elaborate scenery and the flying effects.
But critical response to the Oct. 30, 2003, Broadway premiere of “Wicked” was again mixed.
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Ben Brantley of The New York Times, that powerful arbiter of all things Broadway, heaped praise on the abundantly talented performers playing the lead witches — Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda and Idina Menzel as Elphaba. (The latter won a Tony Award, one of three bestowed on the musical.)
But Brantley also opined that, if not for its stars, “Wicked” would be “a bloated production that might otherwise spend close to three hours flapping its oversized wings without taking off.”
So what did he know? Or a bunch of other reviewers who were less-than-enchanted by the show?
Certainly not that “Wicked” would soon be selling out performances and receiving thunderous standing ovations. Or that it would spin off productions in Tokyo; London; Melbourne, Australia; Stuttgart, Germany; and several American cities, some of which broke box-office records.
Or that its tours would be wildly popular, too, including the one that brought the show to Seattle’s Paramount Theatre for the first time, in 2006.
Next week, “Wicked” returns to the Paramount, for another tour run that should (by all previous evidence) also do very well.
You may wonder what about this show defied critical opinion, and the overall odds, to become a long-running smash. (It’s still on Broadway, where Pacific Northwest natives Megan Hilty and Shoshana Bean formerly played the lead roles.)
I’ll venture several guesses why “Wicked” (which I also felt mezzo-mezzo about initially) is so popular:
First off, Broadway has become increasingly family-friendly in recent decades. Some blockbuster Disney shows (“Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King”) led the way by becoming must-see pageants for the little ones.
But those kids grew into middle-schoolers — that notoriously difficult-to-amuse and hard-to-please demographic, suspended between mid-childhood and adolescence.
For girls of that uncertain age, at least, “Wicked” was a natural next step in theatergoing.
Based on Gregory Maguire’s somewhat darker and more acerbic best-selling novel, “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” the show imparts the story of a fervent friendship (and equally fervent rivalry) between two adolescent girls at a time of life when such relationships are vastly important.
It also has a postfeminist, girl-power message aimed at adolescents who grew up believing they could do and be anything they wanted.
Another hook: the strong parallels with that huge global phenom, the “Harry Potter” books and films.
Like Harry and his pals, the young protagonists in “Wicked” have “special abilities,” shall we say — occult talents that gain them entry to an exclusive school for sorceresses-in-training.
Ah, and there’s the romantic angle. Just as Glinda and Elphaba are crushing on the same dude, many in their audience are nursing their first infatuations, too.
Schwartz’s heartfelt pop-theater tunes, plus cool scenic effects such as flying monkeys, the fantastical costumes and other elaborate trimmings?
That kind of stuff has all-ages appeal. But it’s the tween (and early teen) enticements that sold “Wicked” on Broadway — and is still selling it, here in Seattle.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org