Having spent some time previously musing about the relative non-success of ALW’s The Woman in White, I thought I’d turn to a brief reflection on the Musical phenomenon that opened the year before TWIW on Broadway: Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman’s Wicked – The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz.
I was fortunate to see this show again last Saturday in London at The Apollo Victoria Theatre – especially so in that I just ‘rocked-up’ and said “I’d like to buy a ticket please?” Given that the theatre was full for the Saturday Matinee; in a theatre that has just over 2,300 seats, I thought myself a bit fortunate in hindsight!
Wicked is an astounding piece of theatre, as most people have come to realise by now. The attention to craft in the book, lyrics and music is so cleverly disguised behind the patina of visual spectacle, that it is easy to lose sight of the complex filigree of musical invention; always supporting both lyric and text, evidenced continuously throughout the score.
In the frontpiece of the programme for the Musical, the originating novelist, Gregory Maguire, makes reference to English Philosopher, Roger Scruton’s belief, that “The consolation of the imaginary, is not imaginary consolation”. The power of the imagination to interpolate personal meaning onto the dramatic presentation of themes of universal human condition is not new. It is the fulcrum upon which we balance the success, or otherwise, of great storytelling (in whatever form we receive it). So why is Wicked a runaway global success that delivers this wonderful ‘consolation’ in the experience of it, and The Woman in White consigned to relative and undeserved obscurity? I can assure you they are both works of very assured composer/songwriters, albeit widely divergent in style and musical language? I believe the answer is to be found in the word that ‘frightens the bejeebers’ out of very self-respecting creator: STRUCTURE. You either have it or you don’t. Without it, everything that is profound, clever, beautiful, inspired in part, place or moment, finally amounts to nothing. But ‘structure’ is hard to achieve. It’s the crucial ingredient of theatrical collaboration. Have you ever really wondered why Musicals take so long to get from page to stage? Yep, it’s about getting the structure ‘just’ right.
So, returning to the eponymous witches musical, do we have structural integrity here or not? Basically, the answer is yes, although maintaining the clarity around the edifice of the condensed storytelling adapted from Maguire’s novel is, I suspect, an ongoing directorial challenge.
In contrast, does The Woman in White have structural integrity? Basically, the answer is, ‘not right now’, but let’s hope ALW does find the solutions he seeks for this piece. If he does, this gothic-horror Musical will be well overdue to be re-appraised and rediscovered.
Just in closing, why is there no Wicked Witch of the South, or have I missed something all this time?