Jul. 20, 2011 - Issue #822: CASH IN!
Wicked gives Baum's classic OZ some liftOne of Don Amendolia's strongest, earliest memories is of The Wizard of Oz.
"I was just a tiny little kid and I remember my mom standing me on a chair in the kitchen and buttoning up a sun suit that I had on, with ducks on it. I remember it clearly," he recalls. "And then the woman across the street and her daughter, who I ended up growing up with, came over and we went to the little theatre in our town, and I remember where we sat, I remember the movie—not in detail, but I remember being frightened by the witch."
Certainly, L Frank Baum's iconic, wicked witch of the west has spooked many a-kid over the decades since that quintessential, technicolour film version arrived back in 1939. But her status as unrepentantly evil has come under question in recent year: Wicked, the musical based on Gregory Maguire's somewhat polemic retelling of the roots of Baum's timeless The Wizard of Oz put a dent into the Oz mythos, first as a hit novel, then as smash of a Broadway musical. It follows Elphaba, the green-skinned witch to be, as a misunderstood youth, who grows up to rally against the Emerald City's corrupt government.
Amendolia, who's seen a lengthy career in both theatre in television—he appeared on screens as varied as Wayne's World and Twin Peaks, as well as earning a Drama Critic's Circle awards for his theatre work—is donning the Emerald garb of the Wiz himself for this touring version. He notes Maguire's Oz is a more political place than Baum's is, and in the novel a darker read, certainly. But the effect that has on the story is a grounding one.
"I think it gives it very deep and strong roots. I know that likely wasn't L Frank Baum's intention to do that, but I just think it gives it real gravitas in the world," he says. "Those are important, important themes. And the more we talk about acceptance and being different and accepting people for who they are, those themes are just stronger today than they've ever been, the social pressures notwithstanding."
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