Still Defying Gravity!

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MamasDoin'Fine
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Still Defying Gravity!#1
Posted: 8/3/10 at 6:24am
From The Stage


Still Defying Gravity!

How do you explain the phenomenon of Wicked?

When it premiered in New York in October 2003, after an earlier try-out in San Francisco, Ben Brantley in the New York Times was dismissive, labelling it a 'Technicolorized sermon of a musical' and calling it an 'equally arch and earnest show'.

He reserved his praise only for star Kristin Chenoweth, the original Glinda, saying she “must put across jokes and sight gags that could make angels fall. Never for a second, though, does she threaten to crash to earth. Even lying down, Ms. Chenoweth, who performed similar magic in 'You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown' four years ago (and won a Tony), remains airborne, proving that in the perilous skies of Broadway, nothing can top undiluted star power as aviation fuel. Be grateful, very grateful, that Ms. Chenoweth, who spent a brief exile in the land of sitcoms, has returned to the stage with none of the routinized glibness associated with weekly television. She provides the essential helium in a bloated production that might otherwise spend close to three hours flapping its oversized wings without taking off.”

But take off this show most certainly did, even though it was beaten to that season’s Tony Award for Best Musical by 'Avenue Q'.

It also lost in most of its other major categories, too (only Idina Menzel, playing Elphaba, won a performance Tony for Best Actress, eclipsing the praise heaped on Chenoweth by Brantley who was also nominated in the same category, while set and costume designers Eugene Lee and Susan Hilferty were the show’s only other winners).

But last week, as every week, it scored 100% attendance at the Broadway box office, raking in a phenomenal $1.7m, making it the highest grossing show on Broadway. That’s seven years into the run; by now, many shows would have started to run out of steam. It’s interesting that 'Avenue Q', which beat it to those all-important Tony’s, has actually long returned to off-Broadway where it began. And 'The Producers' which won a record 12 Tony Awards after it opened in 2001, only raked up a total run of 6 years in all.

It came to London in 2006, and here some critics were famously dismissive, too. 'The score is insipid, the production witless, charmless, brainless and tedious', wrote the Mail on Sunday’s Georgina Brown.
Yet last year the show took box office receipts in the West End of over £27m, and has now grossed over £100m so far in London alone.

The show’s London executive producer Michael McCabe recently told me how its success in London had never been taken for granted.
'I was told by people in the UK theatre industry that I had the hardest job of all! We opened in a year when many other shows opened, too - like 'Monty Python’s Spamalot' and 'The Sound Of Music'.
It has outlived both of them in the West End.
“Wicked' wasn’t by any means a dead cert. We were not one of the frontrunners. And we took a few knocks at the beginning. Some of the reviews were very mixed. The show was ignored by the Laurence Olivier Awards. It was ignored by everyone but the audiences, who came in droves. What happened was that we rode the wave of social media and the word-of-mouth spread very quickly. I haven’t worked on a show before that has been able to benefit so much and so fast from that new invention.”

The timing, in other words, was just right, and 'Wicked' has become that all important thing, the “audience” show.
Never mind what the critics say, audiences love it. And it’s certainly true that they get plenty of bang for their buck, as the saying goes: you can see just where your money has been spent.

And seeing it again last night, I observed it once again working it’s now familiar magic: a musical about the casting of spells clearly casts one over its audience. That’s despite the terrible series of obstacles you have to encounter before you even get into the auditorium, or even the theatre itself, which is currently barricaded on both sides by building works, whether to Vauxhall Bridge Road on one side or for Victoria station improvements on the other Wilton’s Road side). Then there’s the hopeless box office, with the queue for ticket collections stretching down the entire length of the theatre building on the Wilton’s Road side. I gave up waiting and simply decided to collect at the very last minute, once the queue had finally dissipated. That wasn’t until 7.28pm.

The box office also couldn’t, or wouldn’t, supply the usual press programme, and insisted that none would be available for me. In fact, I feel I have saved a tree in having it denied me; and actually the glossy £7 item is hardly necessary. All the information you require, including full cast biographies, is available on the excellent website, that is constantly updated, too, with cast absences for holidays etc.
The expensive combined souvenir programme brochure is a worrying trend, by the way: I’ve noticed in the last week of revisiting some old shows that 'Spamalot', 'Legally Blonde' and 'Billy Elliot' have all embraced this way of providing programmes in this way.
It’s another factor in making an expensive night out even more expensive.

And then a final irritation that would drive Lynn Truss nuts: the door to the stalls stage left gents is labelled “Gentlemens”. If that’s the standard of literacy in the theatre’s signage, what hope is there for the show’s own literacy? At one point, a sign is flown in: “Congratulotions” and I thought, clearly the same sign-writers have been used.

But actually the show demonstrates a high level of storytelling and emotional intelligence that is unquestionably part of its huge appeal: here’s an unashamedly populist piece of theatremaking that dares to question the demonization of difference, and even raise echoes of certain recent American presidential philosophies, embodied by the Wizard’s claim here, “The best way to bring people together is to give them a real good enemy.” This is definitely a post 9/11 musical.

And it’s all delivered with knockout visuals and even bigger knockout performances. The show has been maintained in tip-top shape from a casting perspective, and the current one is the best I’ve yet seen in London: indeed, Louise Dearman is the best I’ve ever seen in the role of Glinda.
Yes, you still want to slap this character, frequently; but Dearman brings an oozing vocal attack to it that is spellbinding. I first noticed her holding her own amongst a cast that also included the wonderful Sally Ann Triplett and Frances Ruffelle in a short-lived William Finn revue, 'Make Me A Song', at the New Players a few years ago; she subsequently proved a wonderful Eva Peron in the launch of the current 'Evita' national (and now European) tour. (There’s a wonderful echo of the most iconic moment from that show, when Eva, addressing a crowd, raises her arms vertically in imploring salute, that Glinda does here, too).

But Dearman isn’t the only endearing new cast addition. Her co-star Rachel Tucker, a semi finalist on the TV “I’d Do Anything' Nancy search, is a terrific, belting Elphaba. Lee Mead, who became an overnight star when he won the previous “Any Dream Will Do” TV contest to play the title role in 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat', has eased into the supporting role of Fiyero with dash and aplomb; Mead’s clearly not holding out just for starring roles, but happy to build a CV by returning to work his way through the ranks of other roles. And he’s earning his spurs as a result.

Of course, Andrew Lloyd Webber is even now preparing to bring 'Wicked'’s source material 'The Wizard Of Oz' back to the stage, with coincidentally another reality TV casting for the role of Dorothy recently leading the way before he’d even written additional songs for it with Tim Rice. This prequel to 'The Wizard Of Oz' is going to give him a tough act to follow; just as his own 'The Phantom Of The Opera' did for 'Love Never Dies' (which I incidentally noticed was available at the TKTS half price booth last Saturday night, where you’ll never find 'Wicked').


Updated On: 8/3/10 at 06:24 AM
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bob8rich
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Still Defying Gravity!#2
Posted: 8/3/10 at 7:03am
I remember reading the negative reviews before I saw the show in New York back in November 2003. And when I saw the show I thought the critics must have seen a totally different show to me. Fantastic score. Brilliant book. Superbly staged. And I loved it just as much when I saw it again in London.
THEATRE 2019: ASPECTS OF LOVE**** FRANKENSTEIN (Paris)**** AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE**** COMPANY***** [title of show]**** CAN CAN*** THE CEREAL CAFE**** BAD GIRLS**** RAGS***** LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE***** FOLLIES***** ROMANCE ROMANCE**** THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES*** LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE***** QUEEN OF THE MIST**** SIX** THE PRICE***** MAGGIE MAY **** CALENDAR GIRLS** MAN OF LA MANCHA**** WAITRESS***** FANNY AND STELLA***
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Still Defying Gravity!#2
Posted: 8/3/10 at 7:28am
.
Updated On: 8/3/10 at 07:28 AM
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MamasDoin'Fine
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Still Defying Gravity!#3
Posted: 8/3/10 at 7:28am
Im seeing it in Frisco next week. Looking forward to it very much. I am not a 'Wicked' fan and haven't seen it since it first opened in London so the time is right for a flight back to Oz.
It does what it says on the box- it entertains!
Updated On: 8/3/10 at 07:28 AM
AnythingGoes2
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Still Defying Gravity!#4
Posted: 8/3/10 at 9:28am
The critics with the show yet again failed to embrase the audience and the social timing of the show in their reviews, all of which Wicked represents and leads the way in for musical theatre today.
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devonian.t
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Still Defying Gravity!#5
Posted: 8/3/10 at 10:28am
Have a great time in Frisco
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Still Defying Gravity!#6
Posted: 8/3/10 at 11:14am
Yeah, nothing wring with "Frisco" - don't know why some locals are so touchy, they need to get a life LOL. There's even a famous 1940s Alice Faye/John Payne movie musical called "Hello, Frisco, Hello" (which included the Oscar-winning Harry Waren/Mack Gordon song, "You'll Never Know").
THEATRE 2019: ASPECTS OF LOVE**** FRANKENSTEIN (Paris)**** AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE**** COMPANY***** [title of show]**** CAN CAN*** THE CEREAL CAFE**** BAD GIRLS**** RAGS***** LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE***** FOLLIES***** ROMANCE ROMANCE**** THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES*** LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE***** QUEEN OF THE MIST**** SIX** THE PRICE***** MAGGIE MAY **** CALENDAR GIRLS** MAN OF LA MANCHA**** WAITRESS***** FANNY AND STELLA***
Updated On: 8/3/10 at 11:14 AM
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Still Defying Gravity!#7
Posted: 8/3/10 at 12:04pm
I remember reading from various message boards how London would turn up its nose on Wicked and it would be an embarrassing flop. Then, after Idina left, there was loads of talk about how sales had dropped and it was likely to close. Somehow, I never really believed that to be true. My friends from England were in Chicago this week and over lunch, they were telling me how successful the London production has been and shows no signs of shuttering any time in the near future. Glad to hear it. I think the show is immensely entertaining and it just goes to show that critics simply do not have the power to close a show any more. Mamma Mia was proof of that as well.
"What can you expect from a bunch of seitan worshippers?" - Reginald Tresilian
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Still Defying Gravity!#8
Posted: 8/3/10 at 12:25pm
I have asked myself repeatly why has 'Wicked' became such a knock out box office smash? Obviously this couldn't be the reviews as they were generally negative, but guess the word of mouth is / was excellent.

I only can suggest that 'Wicked' has captured a different demographic unintentionally for girls aged between 12 - 25, I suggest that musical theatre was aimed at middle age white couples who happen to have a bit of disposable income, but in the last couple of decades theatre has moved on, since then you have had shows now that target families such as The Disney productions, which has made millions at the box office, to add to this franchise billions already.

With 'Wicked' being so successful, you have had shows like 'Legally Blonde' and '9-5' try and fail to catch the same market. Now Spiderman with music by U2 and rumoured scenic wonder, a bit like ‘Wicked’, will have theatre producers targeting the same age range, but opposite sex, will this work though? For once I don't know, it is impossible to try and predict what will make a Broadway smash hit that transfers around the globe, there is no logic pattern in shows that have been successful.

I have seen Wicked 4 times now, twice in London, once each in New York and San Francisco and would say I admire the production very much, the show is a different question, that is another post, for another day, but this will not stop me from contemplating why has Wicked been so successful.
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Still Defying Gravity!#9
Posted: 8/3/10 at 12:42pm
POL - I know there are always many variables that contribute to a successful show. And there are many variables that concern Wicked's success - and spectacle and its appeal to a young market are certainly amongst them. But I honestly think that, for once, the major reason is that it is an outstanding piece of writing - a book with genuine depth at its core that poses moral questions without ever seeming pretentious and a line-up of one absolute knock-out song after another. (ALW has never written a score that even comes close to Schwartz's score for Wicked IMO. It has variety, artistic integrity, soaring melodies that are seriously spine-tingling at times and lyrics with a combination of wit, emotion and poetic beauty that stand-up along the very best of musical theatre.)

THEATRE 2019: ASPECTS OF LOVE**** FRANKENSTEIN (Paris)**** AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE**** COMPANY***** [title of show]**** CAN CAN*** THE CEREAL CAFE**** BAD GIRLS**** RAGS***** LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE***** FOLLIES***** ROMANCE ROMANCE**** THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES*** LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE***** QUEEN OF THE MIST**** SIX** THE PRICE***** MAGGIE MAY **** CALENDAR GIRLS** MAN OF LA MANCHA**** WAITRESS***** FANNY AND STELLA***
Updated On: 8/3/10 at 12:42 PM
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Still Defying Gravity!#10
Posted: 8/3/10 at 12:49pm
And there I was thinking everyone on this board hates the show..
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Still Defying Gravity!#11
Posted: 8/3/10 at 1:18pm
There are plenty of Wicked detractors on this board, but what I posted is what made Wicked successful, it isn't the music or lyrics or book as the show would of got better reviews.

I agree the book does have depth, shame it is not accompanied by a plot.
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Still Defying Gravity!#12
Posted: 8/3/10 at 2:54pm
I don't think you can judge any show's merits by what critics write lol. Almost every critic savaged Les Mis when it first opened and I don't think anyone would now say it does not have a good score just because the critics gave it bad reviews. (Though to me there are more great songs in Wicked than in Les Mis - I certainly play the Wicked CD more often.)

And I can't agree that Wicked has no plot. It has a very clearly defined plot structure with clear dramatic development and two central characters who both grow as they pursue their individual dramatic journeys during the course of the show. I can appreciate that the kind of story it tells will not be everyone's cup of tea but it has a very strong storyline and the quality of the writing both in the libretto and the lyrics is nothing short of brilliant.

In fact before I saw the show and read a little of what it was about I honestly thought it would be the kind of show that would likely bore me silly (especially as I HATE the The Wizard Of Oz libretto). But when I saw it, the brilliance of the writing had me hooked from start to finish. The story engaged me, the text was clever and funny and I genuinely cared about the characters. And the denouement of the plot when Glinda and Elphaba sing "For Good" is to me one the most moving moments in any musical I've seen.

I am not generally a big fan of "blockbuster" musicals - my musical theatre taste-buds are normally activated by more subtle, intimate pieces. But of all the "blockbuster" musicals, I really think Wicked has the strongest book and score by far.
THEATRE 2019: ASPECTS OF LOVE**** FRANKENSTEIN (Paris)**** AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE**** COMPANY***** [title of show]**** CAN CAN*** THE CEREAL CAFE**** BAD GIRLS**** RAGS***** LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE***** FOLLIES***** ROMANCE ROMANCE**** THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES*** LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE***** QUEEN OF THE MIST**** SIX** THE PRICE***** MAGGIE MAY **** CALENDAR GIRLS** MAN OF LA MANCHA**** WAITRESS***** FANNY AND STELLA***
Updated On: 8/3/10 at 02:54 PM
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Still Defying Gravity!#13
Posted: 8/3/10 at 9:51pm
I'm a fan of Wicked but it's far from perfect, the plot has a few holes, some of the characters are underwritten and while I love most of the songs, I hate both of the Wizard's songs.

Wicked just clicks with audiences, for most it is a very entertaining shows with spectacular sets and effects, a good plot and great songs but its target audiences which is teenage girls, they can relate to both Glinda and Elphaba especially Elphaba.

It's amazing that it has done so well in London and only took slightly longer than the Broadway production to recoup and I imagine it makes a nice profit per week plus it fits the Apollo Victoria like a glove.

The show has made nearly $1bn in under 7 years making it one of Univeral Pictures' most successful assets and there's not even a film version yet.
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Still Defying Gravity!#14
Posted: 8/9/10 at 12:06pm
I love this song!! my favourite from wicked is For good
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Still Defying Gravity!#15
Posted: 8/9/10 at 3:05pm
The critics don't like it, but wicked is just so fun. I've seen it twice and listened to the soundtrack load of times, but can't wait to see it again!!!

@Phantom, I dont think the spiderman musical will work, generally boys dont like musicals
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Still Defying Gravity!#16
Posted: 8/9/10 at 4:14pm
@pinkyboy, oh no you didn't!!
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Still Defying Gravity!#17
Posted: 8/9/10 at 7:05pm
Saw a wonderful sit down production of it on Sunday night in Frisco, the city where it all started.
Very strong production, great cast and a gorgeous theatre.
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Still Defying Gravity!#18
Posted: 8/9/10 at 7:13pm
Did you see anything else there, Mama?
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Still Defying Gravity!#19
Posted: 8/9/10 at 7:16pm
Theres nothing here really.
Missed 'Young Frankenstein' by 2 weeks and 'Dreamgirls' is here in Sept!
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Still Defying Gravity!#20
Posted: 8/9/10 at 7:21pm
That sucks!

I'm not really into the Frisco theatre scene that much.

You're still there? Bon Voyage!
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Still Defying Gravity!#21
Posted: 8/9/10 at 7:22pm
Got here Saturday and leave Thurs.
Ibiza !
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Still Defying Gravity!#22
Posted: 8/9/10 at 7:33pm
Ibiza? So - from Frisco to disco! lol
THEATRE 2019: ASPECTS OF LOVE**** FRANKENSTEIN (Paris)**** AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE**** COMPANY***** [title of show]**** CAN CAN*** THE CEREAL CAFE**** BAD GIRLS**** RAGS***** LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE***** FOLLIES***** ROMANCE ROMANCE**** THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES*** LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE***** QUEEN OF THE MIST**** SIX** THE PRICE***** MAGGIE MAY **** CALENDAR GIRLS** MAN OF LA MANCHA**** WAITRESS***** FANNY AND STELLA***
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Still Defying Gravity!#23
Posted: 8/9/10 at 7:40pm
Bob I never ever put away my disco heels!
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Still Defying Gravity!#24
Posted: 8/9/10 at 7:40pm
Bob I never ever put away my disco heels!