To recap, I'd decided earlier in the week that I would regret it if I didn't go and see Wicked one more time before it left the Southeast for good. Something about the music, and especially the character of Elphaba, really touched me in a way that doesn't happen often. So I'd been scouting Craigslist for a few days, and had finally struck a deal to buy a woman's 19th-row seat for only half the Ticketmaster cost. However, when we spoke again the day before the show, she gloomily told me that her plans had changed and she wasn't going out of town after all. She said that she'd still sell me the ticket as agreed, but was clearly sad about missing the show. I told her that although I'd plan to still take her ticket, that I'd keep trying to find another seat in the meantime so that we could potentially both be able to go. Cutting to the chase -- lo and behold, another ticket came available for almost the same price -- and I got it.
Fourth row. Center.
So that was the first pleasant surprise of the morning -- I'd left the house around 5:30am because the uncertainty over the tickets meant that I wasn't sure if I'd end up at the matinee or the evening show, but the owner of the 4th-row seat (for the evening show) called before 7am to say, "You can absolutely have the ticket" (for less than his asking price!) and that he would meet me at the arena on my way into town. He and his wife had planned to attend the show with their daughter, but she had decided at the last minute to attend an out-of-town music festival instead of coming to see Wicked. (Her loss, my gain!) I stopped for a cup of coffee, texted the owner of my backup ticket to tell her she could keep it (thus making her very happy, too!) and continued on my way.
Once I'd made the tradeoff and had the precious ticket safely in my hot little hands, I went to a nearby mall, hit Barnes & Noble just as it opened, curled up in a comfy chair with my coffee, and read for a while. That was a nice, relaxing break after all the uncertainty and stress over the tickets. Around 11am, I walked down to the restaurant where my aunt and uncle and I had agreed to meet for lunch. We were the first patrons in the restaurant, so the food (delicious salads and pimiento mac-n-cheese) came out quickly, and we ate, chatted, then did a little shopping at REI. After that, I accompanied them back to their (beautiful) house, admired my uncle's photos from his recent trip to Brazil, and took a much-needed nap before heading back to the arena around 5:30pm.
That was when things started getting interesting. As I walked from the parking lot around to the front of the arena, I saw Anne Brummel sitting outside the stage door with a friend. She was the one who played Elphaba when I saw the show for the first time, back in April, and she had blown me away. I didn't have the guts to try to go talk to her -- I wasn't quite a hundred percent sure it was her (hard to tell without the green makeup! :)), and I didn't want to intrude on her conversation, but I probably did stare a little longer than was strictly necessary. As I walked by, a tall black man wearing security badges started walking toward me. Oh, great, I'm about to get hustled along and told not to bother the actors, I thought, but I put on my best smile and asked him how he was doing. After a brief, pleasant conversation, during which he introduced himself as Marvin, he told me, "If you're here after the show ends, the cast will come out and sign autographs, take pictures, all that kind of thing. Hint, hint." He smiled, and I thanked him for the tip. As he started to walk away, I asked him who was playing Elphaba tonight. That seemed to pique his interest, and we had another conversation about how I'd come "all the way from Raleigh" to see the show again. Then he lowered his voice and said, "Tell you what. If you come back here to the stage door after the show, and stick around until all the autographs are done, I'll give you a tour."
Needless to say, I instantly agreed.
After killing a little more time, I went inside and saw the stand of souvenirs. I'd been casually looking online for a Wicked poster (like this image), and so was thrilled to see that they had one for sale. After buying it, I went to find my seat, and my eyes just about popped out of my head when I saw how close fourth row center actually was. I saw my first Wicked performance from the nosebleed seats, and this was an unbelievable contrast. When the show got going, I could see every facial expression, every nuance. In fact, I don't think I've ever had that close of a seat for anything, concerts, plays, or otherwise. It was awesome.
I was a little early, so I chatted with the people around me -- I was the only one who'd seen the play before, though most of them had read the book, so they had lots of questions about the similarities and differences between the two. The couple who'd sold me the ticket arrived and took their seats beside me, and we had about five more minutes for small talk before the lights went down and we were underway.
After my umpteen listenings of the soundtrack, the opening notes of the score brought tears to my eyes. Hearing the music as it was meant to be heard -- not through headphones or car speakers, but big deep round sounds filling the cavernous dark space around us, filled with hundreds of people, all there for the same experience... along with the knowledge that the music would, within seconds, be accompanied by live actors, perfectly acting out the scenes I'd played in my head so many times -- was just incredible.
The Glinda (or Galinda, depending on your preference) that we had last night was just amazing. I don't remember being quite that amused by her during my first performance -- it might not have been the same actress -- but this girl got chuckles from the audience after nearly every line she said. After the first two musical numbers, out came Elphaba (the witch -- played by Vicki Noon this time rather than Anne Brummel), and the audience burst into spontaneous applause at her appearance. Onstage, she was made to realize that her magical talent, rather than being a curse, could be the means to everything she's ever wanted, and she sang "The Wizard and I" to show us her new sense of hope. As she belted out the last note, I heard a chorus of muttered "Wow"s and "Damn!"s reverberating around me through the applause, and smiled to myself. It was great to hear others appreciating the play as much as I do.
The show progressed. At first, Elphaba and Glinda evoked roars of laughter, displaying their (initial) hatred of one another -- angrily singing nose to nose, each mocking the other's behavior. Elphaba is seen as an brilliant outcast, Glinda as empty-headed and very popular. As their relationship began to evolve into friendship, the laughter continued, mostly at Glinda's antics as she proceeded to give Elphaba a makeover. Around the middle of Act I, Fiyero, the male love interest in the play, appears on the scene, bringing new tensions; though he and Glinda are similarly shallow people and almost instantly become boyfriend and girlfriend, we're shown that it is really Elphaba to whom there is a genuine mutual attraction -- though neither will act on it. Later, the tone turns darker; Elphaba and Glinda journey to the Emerald City and meet the Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately, he is revealed to be a fraud, the head of a corrupt government with no true magical power of his own. After Elphaba realizes that he has tricked her into using her own (genuine) magical talent for negative purposes, she escapes by enchanting a broomstick to fly, singing all the while about how she will fight the Wizard with all her power. This song, "Defying Gravity", was my favorite one during the first performance that I saw (with Anne as Elphaba), and Vicki did a wonderful job, but she sang it much more 'sweetly', not belting it out with quite the same strong conviction. Still, it's hard not to be moved by that particular combination of music and action, as she rises into the air... wow.
After intermission and the requisite dash to the restroom, the second act began -- much less comedic than the first, with more emotional complexity. Glinda and Fiyero become engaged, despite his continued attraction to Elphaba (whom no one can locate), and Glinda insists that everything is wonderful and that she's perfectly happy. However, we see a new depth of her character when she concedes, "Though it is, I admit, the tiniest bit unlike I anticipated..." Elphaba and Fiyero eventually reunite briefly, before he is deemed traitorous and dragged away to be tortured. This was the song that truly blew my socks off at last night's performance -- "No Good Deed", or, as I call it, 'the mental breakdown song', where Elphaba finally gives in to the repeated accusations of her wickedness. She attempts a spell to save Fiyero from torture, thinks she has failed, and then -- utterly desperate and at the end of her rope -- swears that she will never again try to perform any good deed, because none of her attempts ever work out. She stands above a yellow light, eerie shadows cast across her face, her robes billowing on currents of air, and declares harshly, "So be it, then -- let it be known throughout Oz, I'm wicked through and through!" It was so good, with such conviction, that I literally got chills.
The last 'big' song is an emotional duet between Glinda and Elphaba; Glinda comes to warn Elphaba that the Wizard's followers are coming to kill her, and Elphaba hands over her spellbook to her friend, saying that Glinda must be now responsible for saving Oz. They sing about how much they have learned from one another -- Glinda having been the outcast Elphaba's only friend, and Elphaba being the popular Glinda's only friend that truly mattered. Just then, Dorothy and the Wizard's team appear on the scene and douse Elphaba with water; she (supposedly) melts and dies. I heard several muted gasps around me as Glinda mentally puts the pieces together and suddenly understands that the Wizard is Elphaba's true biological father. She blackmails him into leaving Oz, and takes power herself. Fiyero comes and reunites with Elphaba, who is revealed to have survived, and the two of them secretly leave Oz, sadly wishing that they could tell Glinda the truth, but knowing they cannot. In the last scene, the Munchkins dance and celebrate the witch's death, and Glinda pretends to be happy along with them, while silently mourning what she thinks is the death of her friend.
I swear, I'll never be able to watch The Wizard of Oz the same way again. Every time the "Wicked Witch" shows up from now on, I'll be saying, "Oh, you're just misunderstood, it's okay!" :)
After the curtain call (where everyone literally leapt to their feet when Elphaba and Glinda took their bows!), I hurried outside to the stage door. I was the first one there, but about 30 others followed my lead. I was amazed that the cast could get out of their complicated costumes and makeup that quickly, but they started filing out the door less than five minutes after I got there. I unrolled my poster, and as each of them went by, they signed it for me, with varying degrees of friendliness. 'Dr. Dillamond' (one of the Oz professors) didn't seem especially happy to stop, while 'the Wizard' was happy to hang around for as long as we wanted, and 'Glinda' chatted for quite a few minutes as well. Both the principal and the understudy for Glinda had gotten some stage action that night, which none of us had realized (their faces are very similar), and we overheard one of them say that it was her birthday, so we sang Happy Birthday to her as she came toward us. Throughout all of this, Marvin was strolling up and down the line, friendly and jovial, but clearly making sure no one tried to pull anything untoward. (He was about 6'3" and 250 pounds; they'd have had a hard time!)
Vicki showed up somewhere in the middle of the pack, and I asked her, "How in the world did you get all that makeup off so fast?" She smiled, winked at me, and said, "Magic!" I would have loved to have taken a picture with her, but I hadn't brought a camera, and it was too dark for my phone's camera to pick anything up, so, with a twinge of regret, I let her go on her way.
Everyone dispersed pretty quickly after the cast members were gone, and Marvin surreptitiously gestured for me to come inside. We walked through every area of the arena, from the sound booth to the dressing rooms to the massage therapy area to the costume racks to the stage itself. (I wish I'd remembered to ask him how the flying machine worked when we were out there -- there was no harness as far as I could see during the show -- but I totally forgot.) I was amazed by the sheer volume of costumes, equipment, and props; Marvin said it fills 17 trucks, and I don't doubt it. With as many quick changes as they have to do in terms of costumes and props, it's amazing that, night after night, everything unfailingly makes it to its appropriate location at the exact second it's needed. They have it down to a science. Every single piece is labeled, and some props are even hanging from the ceiling so they can be lowered into place quickly. Really cool to see. When I saw Anne's dressing area, I asked him if I could leave a quick note for her -- as an understudy, she hadn't had a costume to change out of, so she'd skedaddled before I made it to the stage door, so I didn't get her autograph. Unfortunately, he told me that was against the rules. One interesting tidbit was that I got to see the inside of Vicki's dressing room, and judging by the various What to Expect books lying on her dressing table, congratulations are in order there... though I'm not sure that's public knowledge yet. :)
At the end of the tour, he gave me a free Wicked T-shirt -- the very one I'd been deliberating over buying, and had decided not to because of the cost. I thanked him profusely and asked him how he knew, out of all the people he'd spoken to that night, that I was the one that a tour would mean so much to, and he just shrugged, smiled, and said, "You were very sincere when I talked to you, and I just thought it might give you something fun to think about on your drive home." How right he was.
Anyway, so that was my Wicked experience -- fourth-row center, a backstage tour, a free T-shirt, quick meet-and-greets, and a poster with everyone's autographs. I'm not sure I could have asked for more! This may officially make me a groupie. :)
I'll spare you details of everything else that's going on at the moment, but in other news, this is my last week of work before my three weeks of vacation. Which means it is officially less than two weeks until we move. Shoot me now... LOL. :)