A Wicked Masterpiece for Wicked Times

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I had the great privilege the other day of seeing the hit Broadway musical, Wicked. For years I had heard that this alternate take on The Wizard of Oz was must-see theater, but I had no idea what I was in for.

I purposely went in knowing only that this is the so-called “untold story” of a beloved American classic. And I understood that it involved serious themes, which, as I have said here before, lie at the heart of my own passion for theater.  I thus expected a story that would touch on prejudice and bigotry, and indeed I found that, but what I did not expect was such brilliant and unblinking attention paid to domestic violence, the abuse of children and animals, power and control, torture, tyranny, courage and redemption. Without revealing details, let me say as a dissident voice recently targeted for silencing, that what resonated most personally for me was the silencing of dissident voices by corrupt authority figures and fawning, feel-good minions. Sound familiar?

What I saw in the theater on that day was a retelling of a beloved American classic  that mirrors what at least one member of its audience (me) sees occurring beyond those theater doors in our own non-Ozian world. I both hope and expect that I am not alone in this, that this accounts for this show’s wild popularity, despite what the show’s creators might have intended originally. The moment art of any kind is released into the atmosphere, it becomes whatever an individual reader/viewer/audience member wishes it to be, a fact I first experienced personally years ago when a short story I had written for an undergraduate fiction seminar was suddenly being discussed as a retelling of the fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. News to me.

I speak here then as an audience member who was never a rabid fan of the original Wizard, but who now includes the “untold” version of that tale, one filled with rich and desperate themes – including one of the most powerful scenes I have ever witnessed on the stage (hint: torn flesh, the stain of blood) – on my list of all-time favorites. I urge others to see it, as well, just as I urge us all to resist the silence and the goosesteps.

Do You Hear the People Sing?

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Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the songs of angry men.
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!

(Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg)

I am a great lover of musical theater. And as my family well knows, I like my theater dark and tragic, rich with the immortal themes of injustice, redemption, pain, healing and unrequited love, temptation and salvation, courage and sacrifice, tyranny and triumph.

Not surprisingly, then, topping my list of all time favorites is the magnificent Les Miserables, the epic story of hero Jean Valjean and the people of an early 19th-century France vowing to bring justice and representation to their corrupted nation.  Here we find, as well, the equally magnificent song from above: “Do You Hear the People Sing?”  This song has not-so-mysteriously popped into my head repeatedly over the last week or so, particularly tonight on the eve of Election Day, 2010.  I can think of no better commemoration.

Tomorrow is a day many of us thought would never come.  I need not reiterate the significance of this day for the salvation of our country, but if we the people do not decisively take our country back tomorrow, I don’t know if we ever will.  But I also have complete faith that the people of my country, “singing the song of angry men,” will not let me down. Tomorrow, fired by that anger, may our votes speak for the fact that “we will not be slaves again.”  As they also say in Les Mis, “one day more.”  See you on the other side….