The Wizard Of Oz is great, and I LOVE Return To Oz. I even enjoy The Wiz, as strange as it is. So Wicked, as teen-friendly as it seemed, I was expecting to enjoy at least as a diagonal look into the darker side of that world.
The result was pretty much what I expected with the odd surprise here and there.
Some good, some not so good.
The musical plays out like a Harry Potter/Legally Blonde crossover with green-skinned Elphaba taking her sister to Shiz University where she is soon ridiculed and cast-aside because of her peculiar looks. On the other end of the spectrum is the crazy-popular Glinda, a typical dumb blonde stereotype you've seen in every single US high-school teen comedy. The musical follows both characters as they clash, become the best of friends and come apart again when life in Oz gets a tad too complicated. You've got a basic love triangle going on in which some dude called Fiyero goes out with Glinda at first only to later fall in love with Elphaba, you've got The Wizard himself offering the magically-gifted green gal a job and Elphaba eventually going on a rebellious rampage.
Yes, you've guessed it: this is essentially a Wizard Of Oz prequel from the point of view of The Wicked Witch Of The West and Glinda The Good Witch.
Inventive? In places, yeah.
I must admit that I didn't see certain reveals coming in this one. Probably because I didn't expect them to try and tie everything in with the classic story so closely at first. The last third of the show is really a connect-the-dots game with all those odd, seemingly pointless plot-strands being linked together in both clever and unconvincing ways. Spoilers ahead by the way.
As it turns out, a lot of those dull characters fit into the original story with one of them becoming the Tin Man, one becoming the Scarecrow and a frightened baby lion becoming, quite simply, a Cowardly Lion. It doesn't all work and it really feels like a desperate attempt to fill in blanks that weren't really there to begin with a lot of the time. Besides, if Oz really is all going on in Dorothy's mind, how the hell does any of this make any kind of sense? Was she just lying in bed for years after coming back to Kansas developing that story in her own head? Who does that?! I should also point out that those new attempts to make the story darker or more modern really feel awkward sometimes. Turns out the Wizard Of Oz was basically a racist f*** this entire time, some kind of nazi dictator hell-bent on turning all the talking animals in the Emerald City into *gasp* normal animals! CAN YOU IMAGINE? The symbolism here is so darn obvious, it's an increasing distraction. Honestly, I don't think a Wizard Of Oz musical spin-off really is the best place to tackle some of those topics. Also, the way it handles Elphaba's disabled sister Nessa's character is clunky to the point where it's near offensive.
I feel like the show is completely missing the point of Oz.
IT'S A FANTASY WORLD!!!
But whatever, let's move on...
The songs throughout range from annoyingly catchy to completely forgettable. Tunes like "Popular", "No One Mourns The Wicked" and "Defying Gravity" work really well and as corny as they are you can appreciate them as guilty pleasures at least. Whether you like that type of song or not, you'll find yourself humming those damn melodies every so often. It's like a curse. Otherwise you've got songs that aren't actually good, I'm thinking "Something Bad" or "Wonderful", but which are strangely hard to forget. The rest boasts a mix of cheesy ballads and cheesy Disney-style pop numbers. Again, if you like that sort of thing you won't mind but otherwise the genuinely catchy songs are few and far between. Musically, it's pretty uneven but it does mostly work, besides, there's enough special effects and gusto there to ensure you're never bored at least. Visually it's a decent-looking show and the greenest thing I've seen since Batman Forever.
What lets the show down, really, is its writing/plotting. It's trying to be so many different things but in fact it should have all been much simpler. Are you telling Elphaba's story? Are you making a political satire through the Oz setting? Are you making a straight-up prequel to The Wizard Of Oz? I don't know, that show's much too ambitious for what it is. It does neither thing that it's trying to do really well and instead of focusing on one aspect of the story and doing it properly it attempts everything which makes it a bit of a mess. You do feel like the show is probably much more toned-down and family-friendly than the book which I haven't read but which I bet is more convincingly dark and expansive than its Broadway-approved counterpart. The ending to this musical is so forced I'm willing to bet it was added at the last minute and differs from the end of the book but I could be wrong.
On the whole, there's worse shows out there and as a night out you could do a lot worse but this is a flawed, corny take on a classic story and although it has its moments, you'll just be wishing you were watching Return To Oz or...