[ Written July 21 after seeing Wicked for the first time in two years ]
Wicked last night was amazing. Wicked, even. I love the show. But I realize that I expected it to be exactly as overwhelming and intoxicating as the first time I saw it. I wanted to be a Wicked virgin again. Before the show I literally shook with excitement. That feeling was replicated at the end of "Defying Gravity." But I have changed since the summer after my senior year.
The sheer pageantry of Wicked is unbelievable. I had the incredible opportunity to go backstage after the show. I *touched* Galinda's bed, Elphaba's broomstick, and the Wizard's machine. I saw, sitting on a green mannequin head, the black witch's hat that Nicole Parker wears every night. And what I wanted, most of all, was to be a part of it. I wanted to stand backstage and take in the chaos-- the quick changes, the scenery drops, the life pulse and heartbeat of the show. As a seventeen-year-old girl, I was thrilled just to sit in the audience and lose myself. I am still thrilled to be near this production, but now I analyze every member of the ensemble and want to learn and apply and do. I want to actually appreciate the complexity of the dance numbers the way only a member of the company can.
I watched Nicole Parker running through a scene with Nessarose before the show started and realized that she has done it thousands of times. But she will run it again and again and again if need be. Julie Andrews had a teacher that taught her, "The amateur practices until he can get it right. The professional practices until it can't go wrong."
Theatrical training, the small amount that I've had, hasn't killed the magic of theatre for me. It has changed in a difficult to explain kind of way. I may not have many moments where I am completely convinced that a show is real anymore, but I constantly marvel at the skill of the performers and the strength of the script and the beauty of the songs. I watch the conductor and applaud the stage crew and wonder at the choreographer. I stand in awe of the story that Wicked tells, and that is brought to life in front of me in a performance never to be duplicated. I notice how the actors adjust to laughter and change their vowel sounds and have bonds with each other rivaling those of a family.
I disagree passionately with the usher who asserted that no stage show is as good as a movie. What is wrong with this woman? What fails to entrance her? To memorize an entire show and perform night after night after night is a talent found in only a certain kind of person. You have to be dedicated. The show must go on. You must know the technical aspects of the show so well that the magic snaps back into it. Pick it into tiny, separate, working gears and analyze it until you have learned all you can. Reassemble and oil it until it flows smoothly. Play it a hundred times. You will learn more. The actor who worries about lines is an actor who hasn't yet found his character. Both the magic of imagination and the hardness of reality are essential. The actor who skips practice will not be the performer the character deserves.
It's a peculiar paradox-- a character is nothing but ink on a page until a flesh and blood person takes up the script and speaks their words aloud, and yet they are something more. I can feel a kinship with a character without saying anything, without seeing the play, without knowing how someone else has represented them. I can't make them me, I have to find the part of myself that is already them. Johnny Depp nailed it when he said, "With any part you play there is a certain amount of yourself in it. There has to be, otherwise it's not acting. It's lying."
There is a marvelous physicality to the theatre-- being able to reach out and touch a real, live person, and yet tehre is that unbreakable fourth wall. Many different people can play a part, and they all capture a different aspect of the character. Perhaps only in putting them together can the true person shine through. Perhaps not even then.
Why do we do it? Why do we put ourselves onstage and tell someone else's story? It's not only the lure of the spotlight and the audience. A singer with a self-titled album is more like that...we thespians are something else. When I put on a costume and feel it against my skin and cover my face with makeup I am putting myself away for an hour or two. Life on the stage is living out fantasies, doing things we'll never do in real life. Theatre is emotionally honest, must be emotionally honest, or it will invariably fail. No one wants to see a show about someone they cannot believe in. I can say things on a stage-- true things-- that I could never say in real life, and it is not shocking or taboo. We celebrate the secret revolutions in everyone's soul.
I honestly do not know how good a performer I am. I only know that there is something in me that clings to it as tightly as anything I've felt. One of the very, very few things I ache for as badly as mutual love is to perform. Does anyone-- *can* anyone understand what a radical statement that is? I have agonized over which I want more, because I honestly don't know. I always had an inclination towards the theatrical, looking back. It's funny, because I never thought of doing it beyond school shows. But I wrote and performed plays with my siblings, and I always loved the theatre. But even in high school I thought I would be a librarian. I guess I still could end up that way. But although I say it was my senior year and Into the Woods that made me change my major, the seed had been there for years. Something made me audition for things every year, wanting it every time.
My mother once told me that she doesn't know where I got all these dramatic tendencies. I am flattered. Not because I don't want to be like my mother, the most amazing woman I know, but because this is something I know is wholly my own. There are so many musical theatre lovers, but I don't really believe that anyone can share my adoration. (I'm sure every one of the others would say and believe the same thing.)
Musicals are more than poetry and melodies, so much more. They are alive. There is fire and passion and magic there.
"There's a broken toe for every light on Broadway." -Kristin Chenoweth