Wicked’s witch is taking off: rising up into the stage sky in a shimmering plume of smoke, clutching her broomstick as she belts out her triumphant message to the pursuing Ozian guards below:
To those who ground me,
Take a message back from me!
Tell them how I am defying gravity!!!
I’m flying high defying gravity!!!
It’s a sense-blasting moment, and as the billowing curtain-map of Oz comes down on Act 1, the applause is electric.
The houselights brighten. The audience buzzes and stirs, some heading toward the lobby to buy a Wicked T-shirt or the bound-for-platinum CD. Every one of the Gershwin Theatre’s 1,933 seats has a person in it, as they have had during every performance, day and night, week and weekend. Despite mixed reviews from theater critics, Wicked has been packing them in for better than two years now, and looks as though it will be for years to come.
Wicked “sells like rock salt on the cusp of a blizzard,” noted The Washington Post in December. “The numbers tell a breathtaking success story, of a magnitude the theater has not witnessed since the peak years of The Phantom of the Opera.”
It didn’t just fly into Broadway on a Nimbus 2000. Having begun life as a novel, it reached out a green hand and grabbed the gut-strings of Marc Platt C’79, then president of production for Universal Studios. Through him it mutated into several stillborn film screenplays, until a phone call from composer Stephen Schwartz helped transmogrify it into a musical. Since then it has been revamped and retooled, sucked up $14 million from its investors, won some awardsand earned the fanatical devotion of its audiences. Now it’s a certified Monster.
From my $110 seat in the Gershwin, I’m still transfixed by the curtained stage, which is framed by a series of vine-tangled cogs and wheels. They’re supposed to suggest the political machinations, in a setting of threatening wildness, at work in Oz. But with the houselights on, those outsized cogs could also stand as a symbol of the grinding machinery behind the glitter of Show Business.
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