I won the Wicked lottery

My wife and I saw three very different musicals in the past several weeks, only one of which truly succeeded.

The worst of the bunch was Bombay Dreams, which we caught at the 5th Avenue. I’d picked up our usual seats – upper side balcony, the cheapest in the house – at lunch one day. But since balcony center never sells out, we didn’t have to sit there – we purloined seats that cost three times as much before we even made it up the stairs.

It’s hard to say why Bombay Dreams was so disappointing – it just was. The sets weren’t spectacular enough, they just looked confused and trashy. The story was trite overall, yet bizzarely offputting in details: why make unexplained eunuch transvestites the hero’s childhood companions, and then have his hypocritical rival just kill one of them off onstage in an open and shut crime whose only justification is to clear the way for a more conventional relationship with the rival’s fiancee at the end? It was just weird.

Or maybe a little more than that – maybe Bombay Dreams is fighting a rear guard action against progressive attitudes, introducing transvestite eunuchs as central, fundamentally good characters – but only to eliminate them – and exposing the public interest lawyer fighting on behalf of slum residents as a monster – a shill for developers, and a murderous bigot in his actual opinions of the lower castes.

It also didn’t help that the actor playing the hero was a bit of a wash – tinny voice, dancing a little on the dorky side, unable to muster enough manly sex appeal to make the story convincing.

On the other hand, Bombay Dreams did have the most memorable new song of all the musicals we saw – Chakalaka Baby, which my wife and have both kept in singing in and out of the shower ever since (though it did finally degenerate into the tune of If I were a rich man from Fiddler on the Roof). No other new song had the gift for jingle of this – an index of the sharp decline in American musical theater since the advent of Lloyd Weber and Disney in the 80s and 90s. The jingle part is just nonsense, though.

Wicked was better. Yes, as indicated in this post’s title I did indeed win the Wicked lottery: 2 very fine seats in row P center orchestra for only $25 apiece, along with lime green “I won the Wicked lottery!” buttons for each of us. We showed up just before 5:30pm the first performance night, put our names in a hat – and I was drawn 3rd, my wife 5th. Since we only needed two tickets, she declined to purchase hers.

Actually, we already had seats to sell that night – two in the first balcony that we bought for cost from a subscriber via Craig’s List. And we’d already sold two we’d bought ourselves for Thursday afternoon in the 2nd balcony – thanks to subscribers and scalpers, who we found trying to sell seats we’d passed up during the internet presale for outrageous markups on Ebay, the best we’d been able to buy ourselves on Ticketmaster – at cost to the hostess at Jillian’s, who responded to our own Craig’s List ad: her mother came for an unexpected visit, and she wanted to take her to Wicked. After eating at Bambooza, we managed to sell our balcony seats just before the show to a daughter who was trying to take her parents to the show, but only one of them had got the last ticket. Fortunately a lone woman showed up wanting a ticket, so she took theirs, and they took ours – all at cost, of course. We hate scalpers, they just make life hard for people who really want to go – when as it turns out, getting really good seats at the last minute can be absurdly easy, if you’re lucky – and there are almost always good enough seats available if you hit the box office early the day of the show.

Apparently Wicked is very popular with young women, who come in groups or with their mothers to see the show. And that’s both the show’s strength and weakness: the story and the songs are catnip to young women just finishing or just out of high school, validating their construction of the world as a scary place best navigated though close, if conflictual, relationships with other girls, the more different from themselves the better – along with romantic attachments to boys, the cuter, the richer and the more misunderstood the better.

The songs were too Disneyfied for my taste, overwordy tomes set into overamped ballads that reminded me of the Alladin show we saw a year or two ago at the Backlot section of Disneyland’s California Adventure. Yet I could see how young women would lap them up: they were either direct expressions of the most intimate recesses of the female characters’ inexhaustible subjectivity, or romantic duets with the male love-object character. They certainly had a lot more going for them than the stagey and forgettable Lloyd Webberisms of Bombay Dreams.

Wicked was also more up front about its politics, and they were of a more progressive character than Bombay Dreams: the Wizard here is a parody of Bush the Anti-Terrorist in Chief, magnifying the importance of a mostly imaginary enemy in order to attentuate opposition to his policies at home. Only here the enemies are talking animals, imprisoned and tortured into losing their voices – not supposed terrorists waterboarded in Guantanamo.

What was the best musical show we saw? Cirque de Soleil’s Love, presented in the renovated Siegfried and Roy theater at the Mirage in Las Vegas, hands down.

While there were no new songs in Love, there were all the best and most psychedelic riffs from the entire Beatles catalog, expertly remixed into a total immersion wall-of-sound by Sir George Martin himself. Marching ranks of clouds and other Magritte-style surrealisms are projected on screen on all sides without you, while within their mutable confines an articulated stage discloses ever-changing assortments of the most picturesque and colorful characters manipulating, and being manipulated by, the most amazing props in a 90 minute homage to the transformation of consciousness we all thought was being wrought during the 60s and early 70s. Cirque’s usual, almost inconceivably spectacular acrobatic antics were here almost entirely subordinated to doing something really trippy with the song, so much so that by the end of the performance you felt like you’d participated in a strange kind of acid test, which had left you completely exhilirated, but with only the foggiest memory of some of the most impressive things you’d witnessed there.

They shouldn’t serve drinks and beer in the Love theater, which they do, providing cupholders in the arm of each seat. Instead, there should be hookah hoses for everyone, dispensing quick hits of a new designer hallucinogen that wears off too quickly to cause any bad trips – but supplies more than enough to keep you tripping nearly constantly thoughout.

My wife took her own parents to this one. I think they enjoyed it only slightly less than we did.

Posted Sunday, October 1st, 2006 under Uncategorized.


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