Friday, March 22, 2013
Reviews: Other Oz Stories
Last weekend was St. Patrick's Day, and even though I did nothing Irish (well, I did imbibe a few cocktails), I had a rather "green"-faced weekend. On the Saturday night, I got together with my friends JM and DC to see Oz the Great and Powerful. Now, I should explain that going to the movies in NYC is a bit of an investment: $15 to be exact, for one person. So I'm rather cheap and get very selective about what movies I will see in the theater. This was one that I thought would be fun and worth seeing on the big screen. It's now been the #1 at the box office for a few weeks now, and you can see it in digital projection, IMAX, and 3D formats (which of course cost even more). We stuck with basic digital projection. And it was fine. I mean, even the movie was fine. In other words, it wasn't as great as I thought it would be. Maybe I had high expectations. It wasn't bad though. The first half was a bit hokey; the second half had more action and kept you going. James Franco is adorable as the fallible con-artist Oz who inadvertently falls into Oz during a tornado and winds up leading a rebellion. (Side note on Franco: I love-envy-hate him now that he's an actor-writer-artist-activist-model-filmmaker-anythinghislittleheartdesiresperformer). Rachel Weisz is one of my favorite actresses. Michelle Williams is quirky as Glinda. Mila Kunis...how is it possible that someone that sexy has such a whiny voice that every time I see her I cannot help but envision her cartoon role of Meg from Family Guy? In any case, the movie's overall story is fine, special effects and computer animation a bit over-the-top, but enjoyable nonetheless. It's an alternative, prequel to the Dorothy Gale story, and you see where the story is going based on how this movie ends. Disney's website for the movie is actually pretty sleek, with a neat 3D effect that is quite cool.
The surprise of the weekend, however, was that on Sunday I (finally!) got to see Wicked on Broadway. I was meeting my friend BC and one of his friends, who were visiting from TX, and I had no idea they were getting tickets for a matinee. I literally got out of the subway and met up with them having just bought the tickets from someone outside the box office, with less than 2 minutes to spare before the show started. (And since they got the tickets last-minute, they paid almost nothing, and they wound up treating me, which was a delightful surprise.) Now, I realize this show has been around for a while and traveling, so I'm probably one of the last gay men to see it. Regardless, I loved it! (Like that's a surprise.) I had read Gregory Maguire's book Wicked years ago, and I did not like it. The musical version is exactly what his novel should have been, a revision of the story of the witches of Oz, but one that entertained you, not bored you. Elphaba, the green-skinned witch, is a social outcast, and anyone who has ever felt different and struggled with fitting in (can you say gay?) knows first-hand why her story is so moving. For me, what makes it even more moving is her fight to help the animals who are being forced to suppress their ability to talk through rather cruel tortures. There's friendship, love and romance, magic, and comedy (Galinda--"The 'a' is silent!"--is hilarious). I now can see how and why Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda and Idina Menzel as Elphaba were such a fabulous team in the original Broadway production. In the version I saw, the same roles were performed by Alli Mauzey and Willemijn Verkaik, and they both did admirable jobs. And then there's the musical numbers...
The score is performed throughout the show, and it pushes the storyline along very quickly as a result, making it easy to enjoy. In that sense, it's perfect for modern audiences who are used to non-stop Internet gadgets and televisions with 10,000 channel options to flick through. It's not an easy musical score, however. There are dissonant harmonies and difficult passages for singing at times. I could definitely hear the influence of Stephen Sondheim on Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics). Everyone would agree that the most powerful and moving song of the show is "Defying Gravity," the song in which Elphaba makes the final decision to become "wicked," for a good cause, and in the process learns to fly (hence the scene shot seen here). "Defying Gravity" takes on the double meaning of fighting for your dreams, so it's also a powerful song for those who believe in fighting for a cause and standing up for what you believe in. The song ends Act I, which I have to confess confused me because it's so powerful I thought the show was over. As a result, Act II seems a bit of a let-down, but that's of course the act in which everything "Dorothy Gale"-related happens, leading up to some surprising plot twists toward the end, so it's definitely worth staying around for Act II. My other favorite song was in that act as well. This was "For Good," a ballad on friendship between Elphaba and Glinda. I confess it made me cry. It has one of the most beautifully simple lines: "Because I knew you, I have been changed for good." (To a couple of my dearest friends--you know who you are--I send that sentiment out to you.) Yes, without a doubt, I would definitely see Wicked again.