Thursday, 2 August 2012

Wicked at the Place des Arts: Absolutely Spectacular

It is highly unlikely that Montrealers have ever been exposed to a musical as spectacular as the Tony Award winning Wicked, which will grace the stage of the Place des Arts until August 26.  Evenko chose wisely following last summer’s Lion King blockbuster. Thanks to the Montreal Symphony Orchestra finding its own home, the PDA became more available. Rather than bringing in a show for six days, as has been the case here for the past few decades, we can now experience our own taste of Broadway for a bit of an extended period.

Evenko Vice-President and General Manager Jacques Aubé recently shared his strategy with me on this and other projects. Here is my video interview with him.

I attended the formal opening of Wicked on August 2. It was the second time I saw the musical, the first being five years ago in Chicago. This untold story of the witches of Oz has it all: comedy, drama, great music and superb dance numbers.

Wicked tells the story of Elphaba, the future Wicked Witch of the West and her relationship with Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Their friendship struggles through their opposing personalities and viewpoints, rivalry over the same love-interest, their reactions to the Wizard's corrupt government, and, ultimately, Elphaba's public fall from grace. The plot is set mostly prior to Dorothy's arrival from Kansas, and also includes several references to well-known scenes and dialogue in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.

I am always amazed how the PDA can transform itself. In this case, the set was equally impressive to one  I saw in Chicago---a place where Wicked had a very extended run.
Christina Dwyer as Elphaba
Actresses Christina Dwyer and Jeanna De Waal were extraordinary as Elphaba and Glinda while kind words must be reserved for Michael Wartella (Boq), Marilyn Caskey (Madame Morrible), Billy Harrigan Tighe (Fiyero) and Paul Kreppel (The Wizard).
I spoke to a number of people at the show who had never seen Wicked before. They had no idea what to expect. Did it exceed their expectations? The answer was “yes” in every case. Personally, I’d go back and see the show a few more times this month. You cannot grow tired of the script or the music.

Concession stands at intermission were lined up knee deep, with folks snatching up souvenir programs, t-shirts, towels and other Wicked stuff. At a pre-event VIP cocktail, the theme was naturally a Wicked “green.” The green cupcakes were delicious. Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo and his beautiful wife were among those spotted.

If you have not made plans to buy tickets yet, check out this day-of-performance lottery for a limited number of orchestra seats.. Two and one-half hours prior to each performance, people who present themselves at the Place des Arts box office will have their names placed in a lottery drum. Thirty minutes later, names will be drawn for a limited number of orchestra seats at $25 each, cash only.  This lottery is available only in-person at the box office, with a limit of two tickets per person.  Lottery participants must have a valid photo ID when submitting their entry form, if chosen, when purchasing tickets.

Wicked,  with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Pippin, Academy Award winner for Pocahontas and The Prince of Egypt) and book by Winnie Holzman ( My So Called Life,   Once And Again  and  thirtysomething) is based on the best-selling 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire.

It is the winner of 35 major awards, including a Grammy  and three Tonys. 
After seeing Wicked in Chicago, I requested and was granted an exclusive interview with  Academy, Tony and Grammy award-winning  songwriter Stephen Schwartz, who told me how he wound up turning the 1995 novel into a spectacular musical.  There is no better time than the present to share his comments. A friend of Schwartz had read the book and told him about it. Schwartz subsequently got a copy and was immediately convinced that he could make music out of this untold story of the Witches of Oz.
Stephen Schwartz

 “I was on a snorkeling trip in Hawaii with some friends,” Schwartz recalled. “One of them was folksinger Holly Near. On the boat Holly happened to say that she was reading this book called Wicked. She both described and recommended it to me just to read. I was immediately seized with enthusiasm. The next day I got the book and called my representative indicating that someone must have the rights to this. I urged him to find out whom.”

As Schwartz explained, he got very lucky. Universal Pictures had the rights and Schwartz arranged a meeting with studio head Marc Platt, who would end up producing the stage production.

“Marc was not adverse to the idea of turning the book into a stage musical,” he said. “But it still took me about a year to get the rights and for Universal to abandon the idea of making it into a dramatic film. I then met with Gregory Maguire, the author of Wicked, just to make sure he was amenable to Universal abandoning the film project. He was on board as well.”

Schwartz had  indicated to me at the time that if Wicked ever came to Mointreal he would try and be  here. Thus far, his officials have indicated no such visit is planned. I still hold out hope of meeting this musical genius in person. 

 For ticket information, contact  the Place des Arts box office  at (514) 842-2112,   1-866-842-2112 or via www.evenko.ca.

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