Category: Gregory Maguire


November 2005

15 year old G is taking part in a compilation show with the town’s theatre society. I am compering and introduce two of my friends singing a song from ‘the prequel to the Wizard of Oz.’  It’s the first time I’ve ever heard Defying Gravity and those opening bars certainly grab my attention.

‘I didn’t even know there was a prequel…’, I say to my co-host after the show. One of my friends plays a couple of songs from the soundtrack at the after party and I start to feel nauseated. ‘Oh, no, I don’t like it. They all sound like they’re on helium.’ Poor Kristin Chenoweth.

January 2006

I am obsessed. Caught in a twister of witches, flying monkeys and dramatic riffs. I have my own copy of the soundtrack and it is permanently in my portable CD player. I’m working in the evenings at my Grandad’s shop and, during quiet periods, I sneak into the back room, pinch a can of vimto and listen to more Wicked. The build-up of Defying Gravity sends tingles down my arms and I can’t get my head around how magical it sounds. I am actually in love with a song.

May 2006

I’m getting ready to leave high school and in between revisingImage result for Glinda and Elphaba catfight for exams, my close friends and I are listening to Wicked at whatever chance we can get. In the art room at lunch time. On the steps to the main hall at break. We weren’t very popular (‘-lar’) and at one point a particularly gobby girl accused us of listening to ‘goth music’.  If only she knew. (and if only I took a GSCE in Wicked)

October 2006

Wicked is coming to the UK and after months of failed pestering to family members (I even told my mum I would never expect a birthday present again.  It didn’t go down well), one of my grandparents caves and reveals she has bought tickets for me and my cousin. I have to wait 2 weeks which feels like two years. We travel down to London and I am almost sick with excitement when the cab turns the corner and the Apollo Victoria is revealed, all lit up in green. The show is amazing and, aside from a man who most definitely wasn’t Munchkin-height sitting in front of me, it’s everything I hoped it would be. Plus, I saw Idina Menzel. Bonus awesome points. A week later, I am still so hyped that I write to the cast and they reply with personalised, signed autographs.

October 2009

3 years after my first viewing, I see Wicked again, this time taking my Grandma. When the stage lights up during Dancing Through Life she looks at me with big eyes and says ‘Oh, it’s beautiful.’ Defying Gravity continues to give me chills.

October 2012

I take my mum to see the Wicked tour in Manchester. She is a life-long fan of Oz, and spots Nessarose’s stripey socks before I do. Wicked is the show that keeps on giving – there is always something new to see.

Image result for galinda gifA few weeks later, I go again with my friends from the theatre group. They’re fellow fanatics and some of them are seeing the show for the first time. We rock up wearing witches hats and sing Defying Gravity on the street outside the theatre.

October 2016

So, it’s been ten years since I first saw Wicked live. I don’t know where the time has gone, but Wicked still has the power to make me laugh, cry and send tingles down my arms
. The music is the closest I have ever heard to perfection. It can sound magically whimsical one minute, poignantly moving the next, and end up dark and bleak. It bounces from joyful to devastating in minutes and you’ll never watch that famous melting scene in the same way again. There is always another nugget of awesomeness to spot in the stage show or the soundtrack. (This weekend I noticed the opening bars of No One Mourns the Wicked and As Long As You’re Mine are almost identical! It’s taken me 11 years to spot that.)

I was never really a big fan of The Wizard of Oz but Wicked sparked my interest in a darker, twisted Oz. It was from here that I became familiar with Wicked’s source material, Gregory Maguire’s book, which I have read and written about countless times. I love the way the story links with its predecessor – from subtle nods (‘lemons and Image result for elphaba gifsmelons and pears’ ‘Oh my!’) to more obvious references, like plonking a big old farmhouse in the middle of the stage. It’s a masterclass in storytelling. One of my favourite moments is when Elphaba, wearing her pointed hat from the Ozdust Ballroom, picks up the broom she has used to barricade a door and is shielded from the cold in a black cloak by Glinda. Suddenly, in the middle of the show, everything has come together and Elphaba is the Wicked Witch of the West. My favourite scene though has to be just before ‘No Good Deed’, where Elphaba and Glinda square-off following Nessarose’s death. (‘Well, we can’t all come and go by bubble!’. Bitchy! Elphie is fierce!)

In many aspects Wicked is beautiful but visually it’s stunning. The set design is genius, with everything from the grandeur and greenery of the Emerald City to the shadowy corridors of Kiamo Ko being strikingly atmospheric. Any show that has both its leading ladies flying (via broomstick or bubble) plus a giant mechanical dragon looming over the audience is alright by me.

Wicked is not just a wonderful production, but it’s a reminder of my teenage years. It reminds me of friends near and far, and the many nights of singing around the piano. Every October, as pumpkins are being carved and witches hats appear in shops, I get the urge to belt out those riffs and melodies. It’s become synonymous with autumn.

Ten years, countless drunken renditions of Defying Gravity, dozens of re-reads of the books, thousands of soundtrack-filled car journeys and 4 official viewings and I can’t get enough. Wicked has a reference for every occasion (does anyone else blast No Good Deed when they’re angry?). Defying Gravity has to be one of the most empowering songs ever. It packs enough punch to energise you in a second.

For me, Wicked is definitely a show that will stay with me forever. It’s part of my life and it was most prevalent during the time that shaped who I am today. Ten years ago, I might have been Team Glinda (I was inconsiderate and obsessed with what people thought). In 2016, I like to think I’m Team Elphaba and I have been changed for good.

Image result for defying gravity gif

 

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The first book on my 2016 reading list was After Alice by Gregory Maguire. Maguire’s signature move is to take familiar tales and flip them on their head. This time it was the turn of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. After Alice begins shortly after Alice has taken that faithful tumble and we join Ada on the search for her friend. Ada encounters Alice’s snooty older sister, Lydia, who is reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream beneath a tree. The story splits off here as we follow both girls in the aftermath of Alice’s disappearance. Ada finds herself crashing into Wonderland whilst Lydia remains above ground, bickering with the Victorian servants and falling for the charms of an American gent.

It’s this split in storytelling that makes After Alice a bit…well…odd. It’s hard for me to criticize Maguire’s work (because I really do think he’s a genius) but I can’t help feeling like After Alice is a bit rushed. The majority of the story takes place above ground in Victorian Oxford. A place which, let’s face it, is considerably less interesting than Wonderland. I found myself hoping that the next chapter would rejoin Ada down under but was disappointed to find another chapter set in the grounds of Alice’s home. It feels like Maguire has wasted an opportunity to Oz-ify Wonderland – expose the darkness and revel in the absurd. That’s what he does best. Ada’s encounters with the inhabitants of Wonderland – particularly the Mad Hatter and the March Hare – do feel wonderfully genuine and reminiscent of Carroll’s original creations. Maguire has certainly captured the quirky style of Carrol but too much time is spent in the real world. It feels like Alice is having all the fun in Wonderland and we’re stuck on the wrong side of the rabbit hole, missing out on one hell of a party.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy this book, it’s just that I was expecting more from it. Wonderland, like Oz, is an impossible place and therefore bursting with possibilities. To get the chance to write in a setting like this is a writers dream and, whilst it’s clear Maguire has a lot of admiration for Carrol’s work, it feels like more could have been made of his opportunity to explore this world. There are some lovely moments – Ada’s freedom from her iron equipment, Siam’s decision to stay and a reference to Victorian’s needing a whacky fantasy novel – and Maguire has created a likeable character in Ada.

The Wonderland stuff works pretty well. It just feels like we should have more of it. The London based stuff is where the novel sinks slightly. A lot of conversations seem more like extracts from a thesis rather than a novel and I’m not really surely what the point of Lydia’s hinted relationship with Mr Winter was. It was an interesting touch to have Charles Darwin appear as a friend of Mr Winter’s and Alice’s father. Darwin and Carrol are two figureheads of the era so Darwin’s presence feels right. His final words on the human being’s capacity for imagination is also a neat way to end the story.

Overall, After Alice is a must for any fan of Maguire or Carroll but don’t expect another Wicked. The front cover declares it a ‘Christmas gift to the dear reader of Wicked in memory of Alice in Wonderland.’ I think this is pretty accurate. I’d be grateful to read any new work from Maguire, particularly if it’s within his fantasy style, and After Alice does feel like a love letter to Carroll’s work, but to not explore Wonderland further, Maguire is clearly mad. Then again, all the best people are.