Jessica Vosk as Elphaba in the touring production of Wicked. Photo by Joan Marcus.
The first (and only other) time I saw Wicked was in 2008, from the nosebleeds of Chicago’s Oriental Theatre, where it would play to 3.2 million audience members in a period of 3.5 years.
The cast then featured Dee Roscioli as Elphaba and Kate Fahrner as Glinda, but I couldn’t see their faces from the balcony. I was on a Freshman orientation outing with a dorm-floor of strangers, making little connection with them—and, unfortunately, with the spectacle happening in front of me.
Fast forward a decade to Thursday night at the Orpheum, where I saw Wicked very differently. Sitting aside my best friend, close enough to see the masterfully played nuances on Jessica Vosk and Ginna Claire Mason’s faces, I watched as this “defining musical of the decade” rocket-shipped past spectacularly poignant to devastatingly timely. I swear I saw Fiyero, played by Jeremy Woodard, hold eye contact with the audience when he said told Glinda “You can’t resist this” in Act 2. Emphasis on the word resist.
Yes, yes, I was entranced with the lavish, intricate costumes by Susan Hilferty—the ball gowns that looked like cakes. I was taken with the super cool mechanical, clockwork aesthetic of Eugene Lee’s set design, and riveted by the sublimely considered, mood-bolstering lighting design by Kenneth Posner. I would have had to been deprived of many senses not to delight in the technical prowess of the vocalists, especially Vosk’s emboldening of “No Good Deed” with a hint of flavor while she was literally suspended in air. The acrobatic choreography and mute existentialism of the flying monkeys, the magnetic energy of the ensemble cast, the seamless scene pacing, extravagant set design, the Hunger Games-like hair and makeup, THE GIANT IRON DRAGON CLOCK PIECE … BUT … but every note I took, every moment that I side-eyed my friend, every piece of dialogue that struck me laddered up to a general sense of paranoia. It reminded me of the current unsavory state of the nation, divided and ill, grasping for truth beneath a Cheetos-colored demagogue.
I’m talking about the subtext of Wicked‘s beloved storyline feeling allegorical as f–k right now. About how intersectional feminism is feeling harder to navigate than ever before. I’m talking about activism, allyship and multi-ethnic celebration feeling punishable and silence-able by the “man behind the tweets” with a trigger finger he likes to grab other things with. I’m talking about outrage and call-out culture; the Ozian allure of High Class society and toxic postmodern self-awareness making people mentally ill. I’m talking about the ability to rewrite history in a way that kills people.
Wicked got a standing ovation and deserved it.