Last year our house was overrun by witches.Â Youâ€™d think that in the 21st Century there would be some kind of way to control witch infestation, but there was no stopping these mystical creatures from getting into our home.Â Let me explain.
In the winter of 2007, Julie and Sophie went to see the phenomenon known as Wicked. Seeing the Los Angeles production of the Tony Award-winning musical by Stephen Schwartz was so magical that the experience was relived day after day for nearly a year.Â The original cast recording, featuring Idina Menzel as Elphaba, the green-skinned, misunderstood future wicked witch of the west, and Kristin Chenoweth as Galinda, soon to be Glinda the good witch, was played endlessly.Â For the first time, I saw in Julie the kind of obsession some people display for artists like, I donâ€™t know, Springsteen, and Sophie could be heard singing the music nearly every day for a year until sheâ€™d memorized every line and was able to recreate scenes from memory.
The snippets of music I paid attention to were very melodic and I enjoyed them.Â But, honestly, I didnâ€™t understand what the big deal was.Â As I didnâ€™t read the CD booklet or do any research on Wicked, I only knew the basics:Â Itâ€™s a rite-of-passage tale of how two young women, complete opposites, form a loving friendship and how they eventually become the (in)famousÂ characters from L. Frank Baumâ€™s classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The play, based on Gregory Maguireâ€™s book, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, has become a sensation of Titanic proportions.
As 2008 drew to a close, Julie and Sophie desperately wanted to see Wicked again since the L.A. production was set to close in mid-January â€˜09.Â Adding to their enthusiasm was the news that actresses Eden Espinosa and Megan Hilty, whom theyâ€™d seen as the leads in â€™07, would be returning to reprise their roles of Elphaba and Glinda, respectively. They both insisted that Jacob and I had to see it to fully comprehend its greatness.Â So, in lieu of a birthday party this year. Sophie asked if we could go see Wicked and in mid-December, just before Christmas, our family drove into downtown Los Angeles to the historic Pantages Theater for a night on Broadway.
We took our seats: Julie and I next to each other, Jacob sitting to my right, Sophie to Julieâ€™s left.Â The lights dimmed and the orchestra began.Â Jacob gripped my hand as the curtain raised and the overture started.Â Instantly we were transported to the land of Oz, thanks to Winnie Holzmanâ€™s sensitive script and the winning songs from Stephen Schwartz.Â Periodically I looked over at him, curious if he was getting scared.Â Instead, I saw my little boy sitting wide-eyed and in awe at the wondrous things happening on stage while glorious melodies were performed.Â Â As the curtain dropped after the spectacular Act I ending â€œDefying Gravityâ€ (in which actress Espinosa was hoisted into the air – flying – and beams of light burst out behind her) I was thrilled that we had come to the play.
Throughout my entire childhood my parents hauled us to musicals.Â Not just the big shows that came through the Cleveland downtown theaters, but many local productions that were just as good as (and sometimes superior to) the Broadway touring productions.Â Sitting in the Pantages, watching Wicked, I was reminded how much I love live theater, how much I do love musicals, and how much I miss the opportunity to see them.Â I was so glad that Sophie and Jake were at least being exposed to something as beautiful and moving as Wicked.Â I was also glad that I was able to sit there with my son and observe how much he was enjoying it.Â Someday he may recall that night with fondness and Iâ€™m glad that I was a part of it.
For the second act, we changed seats and I sat next to Sophie.Â Because she was the Wicked veteran, I figured I would be able to just focus on the stage, not having to worry about whether the flying monkeys were too intense for her.Â As Act II unfolded, I was continually surprised by the many twists and the clever ways the play tied into the whole mythology of L. Frank Baumâ€™s original book (as well as the landmark film).Â Moreover, it impressed me with its themes of tolerance, empowerment, acceptance, and most importantly, forgiveness.Â During several of the high drama moments, I couldnâ€™t resist seeing how Sophie was reacting.Â Looking at her, I was often more touched at her connection to the play than what was on stage.Â With her eyes lasered in on the action, as if memorizing every gesture of the actresses, Sophie quietly sang along with each and every song, never looking away, never letting go of my hand.
The final duet between Glinda and Elphaba is a moving number entitled “For Good,â€ which these two women, once hated roommates and now best friends, must say goodbye for the last time.Â In the song, the two admit that their lives are better for knowing each other and that they will never be the same.Â Out of context from the musical, â€œFor Goodâ€ is a beautiful ballad that has universal appeal.Â Someday I can hear Sophie singing this at her high school graduation and hitting each note sincerely, a heartfelt dedication to her own friends.Â As this grand number crescendos into the final chorus, it was the father squeezing his childâ€™s hand tighter, and the child looking over to see her father fighting back tears, overwhelmed with joy.Â In that moment I understood.Â I understood why this play has been so successful and connects with people emotionally; I understood why Julie and Sophie had effused over it for a year; and I understood what it was like for all of the people I had dragged to Springsteen shows for the first time and said, â€œI get it.â€
I thanked God that I was able to be there, in this moment, experiencing the same emotions as my daughter.
After the show had ended and the applause had faded away, as we joined the massive crowd making its way back to their cars in the chilly December air, the poignant melody of â€œFor Goodâ€ sang on in my mind and my heart ached.Â Our time in Oz had been short and, well, quite wonderful.Â I was going to miss those characters and what weâ€™d been through together.Â A play, very much like a concert, is a unique experience between the performers and the audience.Â No two nights are the same, no matter how rehearsed the production.Â I may see Wicked again someday (I know Iâ€™ll see the film when it eventually gets made), but it will not be the same.Â Still, whenever I hear Sophieâ€™s voice singing through the house, Iâ€™ll be reminded of the gift she gave me.Â Going to see Wicked may have been a birthday present to her, but Sophie gave me a memory that I will cherish forever, a memory that has changed me for good.