Either Wicked or Spamalot is the hottest musical in town. Wicked has been running over a year now, and somewhere along the line it blew up. I receive e-mails from Ticketmaster offering tickets for Wicked shows six months from now. Most shows from now until then are sold out. A friend walked up to the box office and managed to score good seats to last Thursday's show, and while I'm not a musical aficionado, I look forward to heading out on the town for a show.
The Gershwin Theatre, one of the larger I've been to in NYC, was packed. The atmosphere was that of a rock concert. Everytime Elphaba (Shoshana Bean) finished a solo, dozens of young girls stood up and screamed their support. Depending on your frame of reference, it had the atmosphere of a Beatles or Justin Timberlake concert. Usually an overzealous audience is a drawback, but perhaps for a musical it helps to energize the cast. Most shows that have been running for a long time go stale which is why it's often worth the price premium to see a show while it's fresh and hot.
I didn't know much about Wicked going in except that Kristin Chenoweth (most familiar to me as Annabeth Schott from The West Wing) had originated one of the leads before leaving in July. As soon as the musical started, though, it was clear that Chenoweth had played Glinda. As played by Jennifer Laura Thompson, Glinda sounded and acted like, well, Kristin Chenoweth as a peppy, ditzy blonde. Either Chenoweth had made the part her own, or it was perfect casting. Probably somewhere in between, especially when I recalled the movie version of The Wizard of Oz and recalled that Glinda was indeed a bubbly and spacey fairy. If Phoebe Buffay was your favorite character on Friends, Wicked's Glinda makes this the musical for you. Her comic performance and plenty of faithful references to characters, events, and dialogue from the movie provide most of the humor and a-ha pleasure in the show. The production value of the set is top-notch; the giant animatronic wizard has an impressive mechanical grandeur.
Wicked is the back story of The Wizard of Oz, but it also spans the entirety of the movie. It's a canny concept, just the right mix of familiar and foreign that musical productions favor. None of the music stuck in my brain, and the surprise ending is awful, but musical fans will embrace it for many years to come. I suspect I'll leave New York City before Wicked does.