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Saturday, July 13, 2024

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Notes to my Neighbors 3.29.2006

By Rick Racela

Thank heavens, I’m surrounded by people who know what’s good for me.
If it weren’t for my family and friends, I’d probably spend my whole weekend at home in my jammies watching the Food Network.
I’m not exactly anti-social. It’s just that all through the week, I throw myself headlong into my work, which I love, mind you, and which keeps me pumped day after day.
But when Friday afternoon rolls around, I usually collapse into a heap. And I’d stay there, too, prostrate and comatose, until Monday morning if no one rescued me.
That’s the state I was in on Sunday morning. The recliner and the Philadelphia Inquirer and some leftover pieces of pizza were calling me. Like sirens, they coaxed me to go missing until my responsibilities at work summoned me back again.
But a fuzzy-slipper-day was not in the cards for me.
Months ago I had signed up for a four-show subscription to the Academy of Music in Philadelphia with old friends. Sunday was show number three, “Wicked.”
I weighed the choices: fuzzy slippers? or a ticket worth $77?
It was a tough decision, but the ticket – and the company of friends – won out.
Good thing.
Spending a few hours with friends was much more refreshing. And well worth putting off writing this column until after my deadline.
As it turned out, “Wicked” was by far the best show I’ve ever seen. Hard to believe, but it knocked “Les Miz” right off the pedestal it’s been relegated to since I saw it the first time.
“Wicked” has been playing for years, so you probably know that it’s the “untold story of the Witches of Oz.”
It opens with the birth of the green-skinned Elphaba, who’s destined to become the Wicked Witch of the West. During the next three hours we learn that she was, in fact, the least wicked of all the characters, including Glinda, who reminded me of Reese Witherspoon in “Legally Blonde.”
The show is a dazzling concoction of magical staging, memorable music, and creative storytelling.
The set transforms effortlessly from Munchkinland, to the campus of “Shiz College,” (where Elphaba and Glinda become roommates) to the Emerald City.
The Wonderful Wizard materializes as a huge golden face, belching smoke and threats, operated by the wheeler-dealer whose balloon had taken him off course from Kansas to Oz.
But far beyond the creative staging, (and the superb acting and goose-bump voices) is the story, based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, book by Winnie Holzman.
It manages to retell the classic from a new perspective, and more than just preserving the original, it creates an entirely new thread in the tapestry of the beloved children’s tale.
We love the original story, not Frank L. Baum’s, but “The Wizard of Oz:  Hollywood style,” because it dramatizes the way magical power is mere illusion compared to the very real power we have when we integrate our intellect and courage with heart.
Sequels rarely match originals in their quality, except of course for “Star Wars,” but “Wicked” was “game, set, and match.”
The 1939 audience saw Judy Garland’s journey as a perfectly entertaining parable about illusion and truth, good and evil.
“Wicked” is entertainment fit for the 2006 audience who appreciates sophisticated special effects and more complexity in its theme.
 At its heart, it’s the old lesson about treating others with kindness, especially those with abnormalities, like green skin.
But it also admonishes us to look past the obvious, where we may discover that even good witches don’t always do good deeds, and wicked witches may have been labeled unfairly.   
And so, my friends, thanks for tearing me away from my slippers long enough to re-realize how the arts enhance our lives.
Take a look at the Planner this week to see what’s playing in our own back yard.

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