By Liz Logan
September 16, 2021
It’s been over a year, but the moment Charlotte theater goers have been patiently awaiting has finally arrived: Broadway is back. Throughout the pandemic many had to make do with Hamilton on Disney+ and Chicago on Hulu, while yearning for the return of live performances.
And so, on September 8 (running through October 3), Wicked flew into Charlotte with much fanfare. Everyone, from longtime fans to Broadway novices, filled the seats of the historic Ovens Auditorium, taking in their first show since the closing of so many venues.
The excitement in seeing a show in person is unmatched. Not reliant on cinematic magic, the cast of Wicked takes the viewer on a beautifully choreographed journey from Shiz University to the Emerald City, telling the story of the Wicked Witch of the West’s rise and fall from the perspective of the witch herself, Elphaba.
Based on the 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Wicked was transcribed to the stage by Winne Holzman and made its debut in 2003, and has been touring nationally and abroad since.
The storyline expounds upon the archetypal characters of The Wizard of Oz from a new perspective while exploring the universal theme of good versus evil. Retelling a classic story brings a sense of nostalgia to the audience– viewers learn why the monkeys fly and why the Tin Man is made without a heart.
And beyond the story itself are the visuals and music, stirring senses before the curtain is even raised, gripping the audience with each note and dance as they watch on with awe to hear the true story of the Wicked Witch of the West.
Not a bad seat in the house
Ovens Auditorium opened in 1955 with its first showing of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. For 66 years, Ovens has been home to shows from Louis Armstrong and Diana Ross to Sufjan Stevens and Death Cab for Cutie, comedy acts from Carol Burnett to David Sedaris, with readings from Anne Lammot, and theatrical classics. The 2,447-seat auditorium features incredible acoustics from the orchestra pit to the mezzanine. Regardless of where you sit, you’re bound to have a good experience. The acoustics wow the listener and, regardless of where you’re seated, you feel enmeshed with the actors, each vantage point providing its own perspective of the lights and action filling the stage.
Whether or not you’re buying season passes, tickets to the show are affordable and can include deals, like student specials and 10% off for group tickets of 10 or more. Tickets run anywhere from $39 for the balcony up to $189 for VIP seating, with varying price zones throughout. The affordability and accessibility of theater has been a widely discussed topic and, with lower-priced tickets and payment plans, Broadway is more available to viewers of all budgets. This allows for a more inclusive audience, broadening the experience of so many who would otherwise not have the opportunity.
The Wicked Martini
Ovens will often feature specialty cocktails for shows and for this production, the Wicked Martini is a hit. The bright green beverage features apple pucker, apple juice, vodka with just a splash of lemon juice, complete with a cherry. You can enjoy this $10 delicacy before the show or during the brief intermission and get yourself in the Wicked spirit.
While Wicked is, of course, a story turning the original narrative on its head, there are timeless themes of equality, friendship and persistence. While there is a romantic subplot, the story centers on Elphaba’s heroic journey of self-acceptance and justice. Elphaba finds herself faced with going along with the surprising antagonist or standing up with the outcast animals as she works to throttle the power within herself. And, though an unlikely pair, Elphaba befriends Galinda (later renamed “Glinda”) in a friendship based on understanding, conflict resolution and finding power in differences. While yes, Elphaba turns out “wicked” by the standards of many, the full context of her story is given, showing that misunderstandings, rumors and the inaccurate perceptions of others can lead to mislabelings and limitations, all of which have defined Elphaba as she fights to overcome the injustices imposed by a corrupt system.
The music of Wicked, with its orchestral pop sensations and score, has been expertly crafted to accompany the storyline, with memorable hits that are both moving, emotional and catchy. Each song showcases the personality of each character while moving the plot along rhythmically, engrossing the viewer in the thoughtfulness and intentionality of each lyric.
“Defying Gravity” is a song centered on making the right– and often unpopular– decision. Elphaba dreams of meeting the Wizard, the epitome of completion of Shiz University where she is ostracized for her appearance though taken under the wing of the headmistress to further develop her magical abilities.
After finally getting her chance, however, Elphaba realizes her idealization of the ominous wizard may be misplaced, leading her to rethink her aspirations. The song is not only the signature song but a ballad of overcoming evil with good. In what is arguably the most powerful moment of the production, Elphaba uses her newfound powers of flight to lift off the stage as she declares the citizens of Oz will never bring her down.
The show’s moving numbers are not limited to “Defying Gravity.” “For Good” tells the story of the relationship between Glinda and Elphaba, and the differences they’ve made in each other’s lives. The emotional number reminds us of the power we each have to change one another if we can see both ourselves and others for what we are: powerful forces capable of love, justice and change. After their duet “What is this Feeling?”– a song that laments each other’s very existence, declaring their loathing of one another– “For Good” speaks to redefining relationships after true colors are shown.
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