This is a play I did not imagine I would go to see. Most of what I knew about it was that he was a barber that had gone so far off the deep end that he was slitting throats and having their remains made into meat pies to hide the evidence, and that it had really good music. But since I get easily freaked out by blood and gore, I was just not interested. However, when I heard Acting Out Theater Company was going to be doing a production and that I knew some of the people in it, I decided to take the opportunity to go and see it with the desire to learn why this musical has appealed to so many of my peers.
One of the people I knew in the show happened to be playing Sweeney Todd, and since Cody’s family goes to my church, I decided to go with them. It was a very hot Saturday to have the show outdoors, but the setting in the heart on downtown Kankakee was very appropriate to the play. It fortunately cooled down by the time the show started around 8pm. When the play was done, I found myself saying that I didn’t dislike it as much as I thought I would, but I wasn’t totally in love with the show either. It was an incredible well done production, but I walked away from the show with more questions than answers. But what I did know from seeing this play is that it shows that both obsession and revenge are dangerous, and when these two feelings are combined, the consequences are often extreme. This is what I saw as the consequences of obsessive vengeance that are played out in the plot of Sweeney Todd.
[All the photo used in this post are from Acting Out Theater's Production of Sweeney Todd.]
The Value of Human Life Is Down-Played By Selfish Choices
Not only does this become the consequence of Todd’s vengeance, but it is the very thing that led him on his path of revenge. A little ways into the plot of the show, you discover that Todd’s real name is Benjamin Barker. He was at one point in time one of the most accomplished barber in all Victorian London. He was married with a beautiful wife and infant daughter. But the unjust Judge Turpin begins to lust after Barker’s wife, Lucy. Wanting Lucy for himself, Turpin has Barker wrongly convicted and sent to prison in Australia. After her husband is arrested, Turpin summons Lucy Barker to his house, sets up a fake masquerade ball to confuse her, and then Turpin rapes her. When Barker finally manages to escape and return to London 15 years later, he has rechristened himself Sweeney Todd and learns that his wife poisoned herself after being raped by Turpin. Barker’s daughter Joanna, who is now a young woman, has become Turpin’s ward.
Upon hearing the story of his wife and daughter from Mrs. Lovett (the owner of the meat pie shop below Barker’s old barber shop), Todd is determined to seek revenge against Turpin and his accomplice Beadle Bamford. His plan is to reopen the shop under his new name, lure them to his shop, then use his barber blade to slip their throats. Todd becomes more driven when he learns that Turpin is so determined to “protect” Joanna from the world, he is going to force her to marry him. When the young sailor Anthony Hope accidently reveals that he intends to take Joanna away to elope with her, Turpin has her sent to an asylum to silence her. This accident also foils Todd’s attempt on Turpin’s life and he is so driven mad by the incident that he begins to revenge on all of mankind who wronged him. He starts to slit the throats of many of his customers just to cope, until he finds his next opportunity to get revenge on Turpin. To hide the evidence, Mrs. Lovett conceives of the idea to use the remains of Todd’s victims in her meat pies and selling them to unsuspecting customers.
Turpin’s selfish choices devalued the lives of the whole Barker family. Benjamin was reduced to being unjustly imprisoned. Lucy was reduced to feeling like she was damaged goods, leading her to the most drastic choice of all, to end her life. Joanna was reduced to a different type of prison for an unjust reason. All so that Turpin could get what he wanted or cover it up when he didn’t get it. It reminds me of Mister of Judge Claude Frollo in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Not only was he a judge corrupted by his own biases, but his selfishness devalued not only the life of Esmerelda, but also of all the gypsies in Paris. I honestly think that Turpin could have sang the song Hellfire and it totally would have fit into this play. Both Turpin and Frollo has this attitude of “she will be mine or she will burn.” That is disheartening.
In the end, Turpin’s selfish choices led to Todd making several selfish choices of his own. Some of it was probably because of mental instability that resulted from his imprisonment, but I think Todd was sound enough of mind to know exactly what he was doing. He was so bend on revenge that the lives he had to end in order to cope didn’t matter to him at all. And the one person that knew what he was doing was encouraging him just boost her business. Although some may give Todd an excuse because of his mental state, Mrs. Lovett doesn’t have that excuse. She didn’t seem to have any more of conscious about it than Todd. She devalued their lives just as much as Todd did by reducing them to pie filling. But in the end, she also had more selfish motivation.
This is a powerful reminder what happens when we become blinded by our own selfish ambitions. As a Christian, I never want to devalue any human’s life. No matter who they are, what choices they’ve made, or what decisions they made against me, they are still people made beautifully in the image of God. I never want to force them to do something against their will for or make choices that could end their life for the sake of my ego. We have to be intentional about valuing the people around us, so that we can live out the Bible’s second greatest command: loving our neighbor as ourselves. If only Todd and Turpin would have realized that sooner.
Morally Ambiguities Become Amusing
You can probably tell already that this is a very dark play. When the plot is this dark, it is important to interject humor to lighten the mood. However, the nature of much of the humor in this show didn’t completely sit right with me. A lot of humor ends up arising from the devaluing of lives that I just talked about or other actions that make the characters’ morality ambiguous amusing to the audience. Probably the worst example of this is shown in the song A Little Priest. This is when, after Mrs. Lovett suggests using the remains of Todd’s victims in her pies, they sing about what pies of people with different occupations would taste like. They talked about how the priest would taste “heavenly,” and then goes through a long list of others that are reduced to how well their body meat tastes. Even the notion of Todd slitting throats is almost made into a joke by the end of the show. This is all done for the sake of lightening the mood, because it’s hard to find any other way to do it. I think there is a profound lesson to be made from this.
Our society wants to give us heroes that are morally flawed and present that as OK. For example, I’ve watch a documentary about how superheroes as we know them exist today. They talked about how comic book readers were getting sick of heroes that they thought were too “one dimensional” because they were too perfect. For example, Superman is so strong, he usually doesn’t struggle with doubts or fears, and he has a high moral code that he usually never breaks. Many heroes, especially the ones created by DC Comics, fit into a very similar mold. Many of the heroes from Marvel struggle more with inner fears and doubt themselves, but many of them still have some sort of moral code that doesn’t break easily. But probably around the ‘80 and ‘90, certain comic book writers began creating character that had moral ambiguities, like Alan Moore’s Watchmen or Todd McFarlane’s Spawn. There were not driven by any code of ethics, sometimes even becoming part crime fighter, part criminal. They were not above killing a villain if they deemed it appropriate. This is what many of the fans were asking for, and when they got it, there were very amused by it and kept asking for more. Again, there is something about this that doesn’t sit right with me.
As a Christian, I don’t think moral ambiguities are entertaining or amusing. We should be able to look at the things people do in plays and think to ourselves, “That’s not quite right,” or “That is morally wrong.” Even if the characters aren’t Christian themselves, everyone has some sort of inner moral code they adhere to or follow. We should be able to discern if they are follow their own private sense of morality based on their character and figure out whether their actions are wrong based on their own morals. We should be processing what we are seeing enough that we are aware of it something is right or wrong in what we are watching. Now I think we can laugh or be entertained at certain things that aren’t moral perfect within reason, but not at the cost of ignoring blatant moral problems. If the bad morals portrayed in any form of entertainment don’t send up some sort of red flag in your head, then you may want to rethink your viewpoint.
Romance Becomes the Only Light
Amidst the darkness of this play, there is only one ray of light: the romance between Joanna and Anthony Hope. Anthony is a sailor who helped rescue Todd from the sea as he was escaping from the Australian prison. When Anthony falls in love with Joanna from afar, he becomes determined to marry her, even though she is Judge Turpin’s ward. He devises a play to break her out of Turpin’s house to elope with her. When Turpin discovers this plan and has Joanna wrongfully committed to an asylum, Anthony stops at nothing until he is able to help her escape. He is aided in his plot by Todd, not knowing that Joanna is really his daughter. But even Todd’s desire to help is ultimately motivated by his unrequited desire to have revenge on Turpin. Anthony and Joanna survive through the end of the play, but the ending of their story isn’t explained. Although it could be assumed that they lived “happily ever after,” I’m sure what they witnessed of the bloodbath at the end of the play would probably haunt them for the rest of their lives.
Of all the things I saw in this play, the one thing I found myself enjoying was Anthony fighting to rescue Joanna. He stopped at nothing until he knew she was safe. In fact, Anthony is probably the most noble man in the show. Men that are willing to pursue and sacrifice everything for the women they love are rare. But at the same time, it made me sad to think that this was really one of the only rays of light within the darkness of the plot. Romance is not enough to redeem the plot from all the gore and moral ambiguities. It’s because of this that I found it difficult to love this play as a whole. I enjoyed watching it for its production value, but I didn’t love the plot as a whole or where it ended.
Other Things I Noticed in Sweeney Todd
There were a few things that stood out positively:
Production Quality - As far as the production I saw, the quality of the sets, the costumes, the singing, and the acting was top-notch! Cody did an incredible job playing the extremely difficult part of Sweeney Todd. It happened that the guy that played Judge Turpin played the part of Bert when I was in Mary Poppins last fall! I also knew a very members of the ensemble. These guys and the whole cast are incredible talented. Well done!
Compelling and Complex Music - One of the things that I did know about this play before seeing it was that it had really good music. I had some music major friends in college that loved the music and one or two guys that even sang songs from it in their recitals. Now, after having experienced the music within the content of the play, I can see why some people are so drawn to it. Because I watched this production, I now realize how incredibly difficult the music is. It is very complex, and not for the faint of heart. I heard that Cody said it was some of the most complex music that he has ever done. That’s saying a lot, because one of his last starring roles was playing Javier in Les Miserables! Although the messages within the songs are not my favorite, the quality of the music itself cannot be denied, as well as the talent it takes to perform the music well.
There are several other negative things to note:
Violence/Gore – Part of me had a false expectation that this show was going to be showing blood every 2 minutes. Although that may not be the case, it is still a pretty violent show. You see at least 6 different throats slit on stage, in which you see blood from the cut on the victim’s throat as well as coming out of their mouth. But much the actual death of these characters is left to the imagination when after their throat is slit, Todd drops their bodies from his barber chair through a trap door that leads to Mrs. Lovett’s basement. You hear the sound effect of a man breaking the neck of a little bird. Another character is shot, but you don’t see any blood. There was at least one scene where you see Mrs. Lovett tossing body parts into her oven. Eventually, you see a whole person thrown into the oven. These reasons alone are enough to keep any child from seeing this play.
Language – There is language sprinkled throughout the play. The moment where it felt the most excessive is when Todd is describing Pirelli’s fake hair elixir as smelling and tasting like urine, calling it p*** several times in a row. Although that was only specific instance of language of which I took note, there were a number of other small instances of language used throughout the play.
Sexual Content – You see a reenactment of Judge Turpin raping Lucy Barker during the fake masquerade ball at his house. There are people dancing around them, but you can see him on top of her. There is a beggar women who appears throughout the show who often hikes her skirt up to get attention. Also, at the end of the song Kiss Me (Part 2), Joanna and Anthony enter her room together in a way that could imply that they were about to sleep together. There also seemed to be a few mild innuendos throughout the dialogue.
Deception – There is a lot of deception going on the part of Todd, but the most deception happening in the show is from Mrs. Lovett. She lies to Todd to hide a major secret from him, mostly because she’s in love with him and it eventually helps boost her business. I don’t want to give it away if you haven’t seen the play, but when her deception is exposed, it has severe consequences.
Obsession And Vengeance Have Serious Consequences
The main thing that I gained from seeing Sweeney Todd was a better understanding of the dangerous consequences of both obsession and revenge. I was given permission to share some of the thoughts from Cody Marcukatis, who played the part of Sweeney Todd, about what he learned about the nature of obsession through this character. This was portion of a much larger Facebook post he wrote about his experience:
“Obsession alters your perception.”
“I wanted everyone to see what could become of you if you let obsession rule you.”
Wow. That’s powerful.
I was totally taken back by Cody’s insight into the consequences of obsession. I think this is a powerful lesson for anyone to learn. Personally, I tend to have a passionate personality than can easily become obsessed if I am not careful. If I am into something, I am all in. But I know as a Christian, if I become too interested in something to the point that it diverts my attention away from loving God or loving others as I should, then I have become obsessed. Now, I’m beginning to realize how true it is that when I became obsessed with anything in my life, my perception was altered, as was my ability to be objective. That is a dangerous place to be. I am grateful to have a reminder what letting obsession rule me can do, thanks to the authenticity of Cody’s performance.
I am also reminded of the consequences of taking revenge against those who have hurt us. As I was looking through the program for Sweeney Todd, I was compelled by the notes of the staging director, Jerry Cohagan. He posed two powerful questions, “Can vengeance ever lead to salvation? Even if the answer is no, then why do we seek it?” As a Christian, I believe the answer is no, vengeance cannot lead to true salvation or liberation. And the reason we seek it out is because it not seeking it out would require letting go of our bitterness and choosing forgiveness. This is much more demanding for those of us that have been wronged. It seems so much easier to take justice into our own hands.
But I serve a God who instructed me not to seek out revenge. He said, “Vengeance is mine, and I will repay.” (Deuteronomy 32:35) God will be the one to seek vengeance against those who hurt me or hurt others without repentance. He will carry the burden of our anger, bitterness, and hatred so that we don’t have to, if we choose to forgive. Otherwise, our bitterness will steal our joy, our faith, our loved ones, our ability to reason, and even end our lives if we let it consume us. I want to be sure that never happens to me. I hope the same is true of you.
In conclusion, although I disliked the violence of the play, I am so grateful to have had the experience of seeing Sweeney Todd. It is a thrilling tale full of suspense and violence, but it is a powerful reminder of what happens if you let obsession, vengeance, and selfishness rule your life. Although I probably won’t see the show again, I am glad I had to opportunity to learn these lessons. I hope you have learned something too.
When I auditioned to be in KVTA’s production of Mary Poppins this summer, I don’t know if I could have possibly imagined the journey I was about to be a part of. I’d only been in shows while I was in college and had never had a chance to do anything with local theater otherwise. I didn’t know too many of the people involved. All I knew is that they were doing a show of one of my favorite movies and I wanted to be a part of it. I was also all the more determined to get in because my alma mater (Ozark Christian College) just did a production of Mary Poppins this spring that I wished I could have been a part of. When I discovered I made the cast at around midnight on Saturday June 20th, I squealed with excitement. (I fortunately didn’t wake up my mom and little sister, but my dad was up and asked me what was wrong! lol) Although I was unsure of what this experience would be like, I knew I was lucky to be a part of it. As I look back on the last few months, there is so much that stands out in my heart and mind to reflect on this incredible journey.
Being in Mary Poppins Was Hard Work
In order for such an iconic show to be done right and done well, we all knew that we had our work cut out for us. We knew the hours of rehearsals would get long and hard. We knew to we would get to the point that we would have to be at rehearsal every weeknight, and even had weekend promotional events. In fact, our chimney sweeps had to start rehearsals in July when we didn’t open until October! We knew that we would get tired and our feet would get sore. We knew what we signed up for when we committed to be in this play and it wasn’t going to be easy. My part was one of the smaller roles in the show, but I still knew going into this that this was going to be a lot of hard work, especially since I hadn’t been in a show since I graduated college.
But I think I can speak for all of our cast and crew when I say that it was all worth it. It was so incredible when we finally got to opening night to see and hear a full house reacting to all we had been working on for months. We were hearing so many stories of not only how much people enjoyed the production, but also how much this show touched them on a personal level. Mary Poppins holds a special place in so many of our hearts and seeing it being brought to life was a special experience for so many of our audience members. Being a part of bringing this to life was even more special for all of us involved. So although it wasn’t easy, all the work we put into bring this show to the stage was worth it in the end.
Being in Mary Poppins Formed Such A Great Community
When I started in this show, I probably only knew 4 or 5 people that I really didn’t talk to much that were involved in the show. I confess that I was so nervous about being in this show with so many people I didn’t know. I was afraid it was going to be difficult to befriend people, especially since I was not in too many scenes or dances numbers. And at first, it was a little strange when we were working on vocals to be sitting among people that I wanted to introduce myself to but couldn’t because we were working. I hoped that would change as time when on.
We all became a family in the time we spent together (in fact, most of us ended up spending more time with each other at rehearsals than we spent with our own families by the end! lol) At the end of the last show, it was definitely bittersweet to realize we would not all be together again after that night, but it also made me super grateful for all the time I did get to be with these wonderful people. I am still so grateful for each and every one of them.
Being in Mary Poppins Taught Us Great Lessons
There are so many great lessons within the story of stage version of Mary Poppins. Some are touched on in the film version but are not explored as much as they could be. Others were developed specifically for the stage version, but blend right into the original film. I just want to touch on my favorites.
“When will you learn to look past what you see?”
Honestly, I think this question could be asked of each and every one of us at some point in our lives. We all struggle to see past the end of our noses at times. But I think one of the most powerful lessons within the story of Mary Poppins is learning to have an awareness of the world around and learning to develop a sensitivity to the needs of others. It starts with the Bird Women and eventually comes full circle to the children being aware of their father’s needs. I was a women who snubbed off the Bird Women, but according to my backstory, I didn’t want to. I just went along with a fiancé. But it was such a great reminder that even when the world around us tells us to look out for ourselves as number one, we really do need to remember to look past what we see.
“I’ll fight for the man that needs freeing”
I love this line in one of Mrs. Banks’ songs. In the play version, she really struggles with figuring out what it meets to be Mrs. Banks, since it doesn’t seem to line up with what her husband seems to think. But by the second act, Winifred realizes that one of the most important things she can do as wife is fight for her husband by support him through whatever trials he faces. I think this should be true of any wife and is something I hope to remember when I get married someday.
Prioritizing your family
One of the great lesson in Mary Poppins is that you should always make family a priority. At the beginning of the show, George Banks is convinced that they should have a nanny because everyone in their class of society did and he believed it was the nanny’s responsibility to mold the children into the person they were meant to be when they grow up. The children are also very distant from their father. But by the end of the show, they realize that they all need each other, and they are made better because of it. George Banks realizes that he and his wife are responsible for molding their children's lives. That is Mary Poppins' main mission all along: to teach families this lesson, and it's such a powerful one to be learned in this day and age.
“Anything can happen if we only get out of our own way”
Although the more common quote from the show is “anything can happen if you let it,” I personally like this version of the quote better. It’s a reminder that many of us are afraid about venturing into the unknown by daring to try what we have been scared to pursue. Sometimes, our pride can also get in the way. But we are able to face that fear (or swallow our pride) and just do it, anything is possible. I often struggle with such fear or pride in my own life, but the song Anything Can Happen is such a great reminder that we are the ones that prevent us from taking the chance. I think we would all be make better people if we learned how to do this.
Being in Mary Poppins was a dream come true, not only because I got to be in a Disney musical (there was a reason the cast voted me as “Disney’s Biggest Fan”! lol), but I also got to be in a show with a theater company that I have been watching since I was a kid. I had wanted to be in one of KVTA’s shows for years, but the timing never worked out and I probably wouldn’t have made it before I received my vocal and theatrical training in college. But in the end, I am so proud to say that of all the shows I could have done with KVTA, Mary Poppins was my first. I will cherish the memories of this show and the people involved with it for years to come. We put on a pretty amazing show and together, we accomplished something so much bigger than ourselves. To me, that’s the best part of theater, when everything just comes together to its completion for the sum of the greater whole.
If they choose to read this, I want to thank my college drama director Mary for helping me find my presence both on and off the stage. I don’t think I could have made it into this show without the lessons I learned from you. I also want to thank my current director Paula for casting me in this great show and giving the privilege to be part of this special production. It meant so much to me and I am so grateful. Thanks to the rest of the cast and crew for being so friendly, encouraging, and such pleasant people to work with. You have all blessed my life more than you will ever know. I hope that the rest of you have the chance to be involved in something like a stage show or a group project like it in your own life. And remember to look past what you see, so you can get out of your own way.
Here’s a few more pictures. Enjoy!
It was a great night when I got to see Cats for the first time. In fact, it was only about a month and a half ago (July 31, 2015). My friend Angela and I made plans to see it together, and she invited a few of her friends to join us. It was such a beautiful summer day and we were all excited and curious about the show, since we hadn’t seen it before. Part of what made this production so special is that this theater company does their productions every summer outside, in a setting that compliments the story they are telling. Since they were doing Cats, they choose to build their stage in front of an abandon building that was once part of the town’s mental hospital. Since it was outdoors, we can early to set up lawn chairs, and then we had a picnic dinner and relaxed before the show. When the show finally started, I was not disappointed by the quality or the staging of this play. It still amazes me what the Acting Out Theater Company is able to do with their outdoor settings. Plus, we even had a full moon rising over us toward the end of the evening, which when perfectly with the show. It was pretty cool.
[All of the pictures I'm including in this post are from the Acting Out Theater Company's Production]
Overall, I have a fairly positive view of this musical, which rather surprised me, but I thought it has more questionable content than it does. I believe there is a lot that can be observed from the plot of this musical, if we take the time to look at the plot a little more closely.
Seeing Life From A Cat’s Perspective is Thought-Provoking
I must confess that I am more of a dog person than a cat person. I have had some bad experiences with cats as a child that kind of turned me off to being a cat lover. And even my love of dogs did not come until I was in college. However, even though I’m not as fond of cats, I found the insights into a cat’s train of thought to be very interesting, even if some of it was in the mind of human writers. I was very amused when they talked about their names in the song The Naming of Cats. It makes you think that maybe cats do have different names for themselves than we do. Any pet get used to the name that we call them, but in their minds, they probably have their own names that they call each other. And the names they came up with for each other are not anything like human names, or a name a human would could probably conceive for his pet. It was extremely interesting to me.
I was also intrigued by the stories of each of the different cats’ lives and the concept of the Jellicles and the Jellicle Ball. The times when I’ve watched cats and dogs playing, I’ve sometimes wondered what is going on in their heads and how they perceive what is going on around them. This play gives us the opportunity to explore the possibilities of what is going on in their heads. Although it is fictional and humanized to a certain degree, it’s done in a creative way that is very compelling to the audience. You are totally drawn into the cats’ world, and that is credit to great writing and acting.
Don’t Judge A Person (or a Cat) By Its Cover
When Old Deuteronomy (the Jellicle Cats’ patriarch) chooses Grizabella to ascend to the Heavenside Layer, their hearts are changed towards her. I think there is a profound lesson that can be learned from Grizabella’s story.
We are so quick to judge people without knowing their story. We judge them for everything from their outward appearance to our first impressions of them. We do this without getting to know them as a person. We don’t take the time to learn their story. As a result, we often miss the opportunity for a relationship to be built or for lessons to be learned from their lives. We often turn our hearts bitter and make enemies for ourselves in the process. When we do, we miss a very powerful point.
As a Christian, I believe that we are to remember a few key truths in this matter. Fellow Christians, we are NOT called to judge those that do not commit to our standards of morality or judge anyone based on their outward appearance. One of the biggest problems in this matter is assuming that we should. What we are called to do is listen to them, give them the value they deserve as human beings, and find ways to demonstrate love toward them. I have often found that it’s the stories that I do not to listen to at first are the ones that I most need to hear. This is especially true of the story of people’s lives. Listening to the stories of people’s lives and taking to heart to wisdom (both direct and indirect) within their life stories is a wise practice for anyone, no matter what stage of life you are in yourself. I appreciate how prominently this truth plays out in the story of Cats.
The Concepts of Rebirth and Heaven Are A Little Off-Center
The only major problem I had with the plot of Cats was this concept of rebirth and the “Heavenside Layer.” Now, there are a few things I need to clarify before I explain my disagreement. First, part of the concept of their rebirth is connected to the idea that cats have nine lives, which when you get down to it from a scientific standpoint, most people know this is not true. Second, I am fully aware that we are taking cats verses humans, but that is also part of my frustration with the way that this is presented here.
In this play, their concept of rebirth is basically to be given a new chance at life when they prove to be the most worthy. Grizabella ends up being chosen because she proved to be the most worthy, but she also had the greatest need. She had lived a full life and had been through a lot. This meant that she was worthy of making the ascent to their version of Heaven. And it seems to be implied that Grizabella will return to earth as another cat in another life.
As a Christian, I believe that we are called to be born again, but not in any way like they portray it in Cats. We are called to confess our wrongdoings, admit that we are in need of a Savior, and then go through a spiritual rebirth as it is symbolized in the act of baptism. We are supposed to die to ourselves and our old ways of life, but it’s more of a redirection of our current lives. Because the truth is that we only get one pass at life. There is no chance of reincarnation or physical rebirth once we are dead. I also believe that our ability to get to Heaven is not based on any of our own merits or who has suffered the most in this life. Our ability to get into Heaven is based solely on Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross, our acceptance of this sacrifice, and the way we lived our lives in response to this sacrifice. That is definitely a different version of salvation than I see portrayed in Cats. However, as long as you know about and understand this difference, I think this is still a great play to watch.
Other Positive Elements
These comments are specifically directed at the production I saw, because I believe that the Acting Out Theater Company did a phenomenal job! The makeup and costume design for this production was top-notch. The quality of this production lived up to all my expectations and more. They picked the perfect setting for the Russell Hotel and it was even more awesome to see the moon rising over us toward the end of the play. Well done AOTC!
It was one the most fun memories I have from my first year of college when I got to see Wicked the Musical for the first time. The day before Thanksgiving Break of my first semester at Ozark Christian College in 2009, a group of about twenty of us (give or take a few) carpooled to Kansas City, KS (about 3 hours from Joplin) to go see the show together. I had never seen a Broadway level production before and I was so excited. My excitement only increased as I watched the play and was amazed by the quality of the production. Plus, I was with some of the girls that became my dearest friends at Ozark. After the show was over, we didn’t get back to campus until after 2am, but we were listening to the Wicked soundtrack the whole way home. It was so much fun!
A little over a year later, I had the chance to see Wicked again. This time, it was in Chicago and I was with two of my best friends from high school. All three of us had seen Wicked once before and wanted to see it again, so we went into the city together for the evening during our Christmas break that year (2010). I was so grateful to do that with those girls especially. We had a blast!
Part of my love for this musical is the fond memories I have of these experiences of getting to see it, as well as countless memories of enjoying its music at other times with other friends. But one of the other reasons I enjoy it so much is that I love the questions it poses about wickedness, justice, and friendship. Even though I don’t agree with everything in this play, I believe there is much to be learned if we take the time to look a little deeper into the message this play is trying to convey. These are the morals or lessons that the plot of Wicked teaches, and a Christian perspective on each one:
No One Mourns the Wicked (But We Should)
As I have begun to think about the title of the opening song of this play, I have begun to realize the powerful question it poses. When I listen to the song No One Mourns the Wicked, I have started to ask the question “Why does no one mourn the wicked?” Both in this song and in the song Ding Dong! The Wicked Witch is Dead from The Wizard of Oz, they basically say that we should be happy the witch died because she’s was a witch and her life didn’t matter. That is wrong. Through the musical Wicked, you come to realize that Elphaba (the name given to the Wicked Witch of the West) is not just a nameless witch – she is a person with a human soul. Despite the fact that Elphaba was a witch and did things that were wrong, a Christian should be grieved to see the reality of a person who dies without the hope of redemption for their soul. I know Elphaba is a fictional character, but I think that we need to be aware that we do this to people, both in the world of fiction and in real life.
As I have identified this problem, I have tried my best to see these kinds of people as God sees them, even in entertainment. Let me illustrate with examples from a few movies. In the Disney film The Princess and the Frog, the fate of the Witch Doctor makes me sad. At the end of the film, he was bound to spend eternity in hell because he sold his soul to the devil and didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. I also have a similar feeling about Gollum’s fate in The Lord of the Rings. There was no redemption for Gollum’s soul. As much as Gollum may have merited his fate and good came about from it, it still makes me sad when I think about it from that perspective. As much as we rejoice when the hero is redeemed in our favorite stories, we should also feel sympathy for the villains that do not have their chance at personal redemption.
Despite the fact the chorus was declaring “no one mourns the wicked,” there was one person who did mourn Elphaba – Glinda. Throughout the rest of the play, you come to learn through Glinda’s personal journey to see Elphaba for who she was as a person with a human soul – not just as a witch with green skin. I was challenged in this way to allow God’s views of people inform my own view before I look at the way our society or our view of their sin defines them.
Society Makes Up Their Own Standard of Wickedness and Justice
Our world today tries to define their own standards of morality that are inconsistent and self-centered, and often their views of the people around them are affected. Especially when they don’t value people as human souls, they often start to treat certain people as less than human. I believe Wicked to be a perfect example of this. From the day she was born, everyone judged Elphaba her by the color of her skin. When she was later accused of being a witch, everyone cast judgments on her based on rumors spread by those in the employ of the Wizard. They told ridiculous stories about Elphaba being less than human and all the evil things they did.
“Many that live deserve death, but some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be eager to deal out death and judgement. Not even the very wise can see out all ends.”
I am challenged by these words, and I hope you are too.
Deception Is A Necessary Means to an End
Quality Friendships Will Change Your Life for the Better
Of all the things that have endured me to this play, the strong themes of friendship and forgiveness are the most obvious. The friendship of Elphaba and Glinda illustrates many things I think the world should know about what and friendship should really be. In order for those to be understood, I think I need to explain the arc of their friendship.
Eventually Glinda gets the position that Elphaba wanted and everything seems to be perfect, but Glinda begins to realize that achieving her dreams had a high price (Couldn’t Be Happier). The next time they see each other, they are mad because Elphaba just lost her sister (for which Elphaba blames Glinda) and Glinda’s fiancé left her for Elphaba. They are so mad, they think they will never forgive each other. Finally after Elphaba decided to surrender to the view everyone had of her, Glinda comes to warn her about those who want to kill her, and the exchange they have still touches me to this day. The song For Good is one of the most profound songs I’ve found in a Broadway show. It’s a song any of us could sing about any friendship of substance we have had in our lives. A few messages of this song stand out.
First, friendships change the course of our future. This song made me realize that even the friendships I’ve had that didn’t last, were not the best quality, or didn’t end well impacted my life. Even if the impact was negative, they did affect the person I am today. When need to be aware of this truth so we can be intentional about making an impact with our friendships. Second, the quality friendships leave positive impressions on you that last a lifetime. My favorite line of the song (and the entire show) is “And now whatever way our stories end, I know you have rewritten mine by being my friend.” I would lose count if I attempted to count how many people I’ve had in my life that I could say this line to. The mark of a solid, steadfast friendship/relationship is one that has left a lasting, positive impression, “a handprint on [your] heart.” And lastly, forgiveness is a powerful and necessary part of a good friendship. They come to forgive each other for the mistakes they made and acknowledge that they were arguments that didn’t matter. When you have the kind of friendship where you are aware that they have left a positive impact on your life and you are able to forgive and forget, hold on to those friendships as long as it’s the right season for that friendship. Elphaba and Glinda knew their season of friendship was ending, but they also knew they would always cherish their friendship. We should cherish our friendships in the same way.
Other Positive Elements
Compassion is a Strong Theme
As I mentioned earlier, you develop a compassion for Elphaba that is hard to have if you only know the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. Elphaba did end up suffering from what other did to her. Initially, she does have a good heart. She loves her sister more than anyone else. She cares about nature and animals. She tries to do the right thing. But through her circumstances, she turns angry and bitter, and her only defense was her magic. Her heart was hardened because of the way others treated her.
I do not say any of this to give her an excuse for what she does [See “Elphaba is the Victim” below], but I make the point that this play does give us a context to have sympathy for her character. Christians should do what they can to have compassion for those that need it, even if they don’t deserve it. That’s part of what Christ did for us.
Interesting Backstory and Humorous Irony from The Wizard Of Oz
One of the best part of Wicked is the connections between its plot and The Wizard of Oz. The writers did everything they could to connect the stories and challenge what the film version did to the stereotypes that film created of what witches are, especially in American culture. You even find out how certain characters can to be in their current state, and you catch more irony every time you see the play. In the end, you get the impression that what you know about Oz is from the perspective of a little girl you didn’t know the full story. I don’t want to spoil it for those that haven’t seen it, but if you like dramatic irony, this will definitely interest you!
Well Done Plot and Music
I also LOVE the music to this show! Although I don’t agree with some of the messages in the songs [See “The Songs Point to a Worldly View” below], I do think they are incredibly well done, both lyrically and instrumentally. On this particular point, this is best quality production I’ve ever seen. The costume design is fantastic. The set and special effects are top notch. The plot is also a creative adaptation of what I know about the original novel. It’s incredible well done!
Other Negative Elements
The Line Between “Magic” and Magick is Not Super Clear
This is the one of the greatest points of controversy among Christians about this play, so I want to acknowledge the difference of opinion, but also explain what I understand to be right. Elphaba is a witch in this play that practices sorcery. I do NOT think that this makes the play bad in its own right. I need to explain why.
This play is in the fantasy genre. That being said, I believe it’s important to realize that within a fantasy world that is set in an alternate reality, different definitions, meanings, and laws of existence apply. Within these worlds, magic doesn’t have the same connotations that it does in our world. It is primarily a medium used to propel the storyline forward. It’s the same difference as the use of advanced technology in science fiction. They use these mediums (magic and technology) to advance the story in ways that are not possible within our world.
[This last paragraph is a summary of some of the explanations about fantasy magic made by Richard Abanes in his book Harry Potter, Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings. Click here to see my brief review of this book on my Top 10 books list. It’s number 3 on the list.]
Elphaba is the Victim
Elphaba had a hard life. Elphaba was an illegitimate child conceived on a green elixir, and that’s the reason her skin is green.* Since she was born with green skin, her father never expressed any affection towards her, directing all his affection towards her sister Nessarose, who was handicapped and in a wheelchair. Elphaba tried to earn his father’s affections through obedience, but usually to no avail. She struggled to fit in all her life. The only thing she ever had going for her was her natural talent in sorcery. For a brief moment, when she first arrives in the Emerald City, she thinks she can fit in there because everyone is green (One Short Day). But after the Wizard destroys her reputation, she never has the chance of being accepted again, even in the Emerald City.
However, as much as I did develop sympathy for Elphaba through this story, I get the sense that the writers try to use her status of victim as an excuse for wrongdoing. In a society where we all want to play the victim (sometimes I even fall into this category), we must be cautious about allowing that to become an excuse. Wicked is even sponsors of anti-bullying campaigns, which is ironic to me, because Elphaba's bullying story didn't end well. She didn't overcome her bullying ever. Elphaba was worn thin and turned bitter because of it. We must make the choice to not let the same thing happen to us.
*Aside from this being another factor of her being made a victim, this is also content that is inappropriate, especially for younger children.
Fiyero Cheats on Glinda with Elphaba
Fiyero is the heartthrob at Shiz when Glinda and Elphaba are in school. Glinda, being the ditsy blonde she is, assumes the status of being his girlfriend and eventually his fiancée. But you get the sense that Fiyero didn’t fully return Glinda's affections. Not long after, when Elphaba tries to confront the Wizard, Fiyero gives up everything to run away with Elphaba. They escape into a forest and sing a love song in a minor key, As Long As Your Mine.**
Aside from all that, it does somewhat bother me that they justify Fiyero’s actions by the fact that he was never really in love with Glinda. I believe that we need to be cautious about allowing for these justifications in our minds. Cheating is cheating within the contexts of relationships, even if it’s only on an emotional level. End of story.
**This song is inappropriate in its implications of what they do with each other, although you see nothing on stage except kissing and embracing.
I love this play, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s perfect. Even as I have come to examine the plot of the play in this way, I have come to realize more ways in which I disagree with it. And I do confess that I did have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with it after I saw for the first time, mostly because it was my first Broadway musical. At first, I wanted to “defy gravity” in my own life, but now I realize that was not right or healthy way to see this play.
Now, I do not think about it as highly as I did then, but I still enjoy the memories associated with it. Of all the things I will remember about this play, I will remember how it helped me learn what it means to mourn the wicked and how to be intentional with the friendships I have so that I can make a positive impact in the lives of my friends. I hope that most of you can learn to do the same thing.
For the next two weeks, I want to do something a little different. I have mentioned before how much I want to do media reviews, most specifically of movies (especially Disney movies), books, and Broadway musicals. In order to help me organize my ideas for which things to review, I will make a few lists of my favorites in these categories. I will do two both weeks. These posts will not be super long, but will hopefully give you a taste of the types of stories I want to write about and dig deeper into the messages they are trying to convey.
Today, I will list my favorite Broadway musicals. For most of these, I have seen a stage production of these musicals, a few of them a Broadway level production. A few of these I haven’t seen on stage, but I am in love with the film version. For the reviews I plan to do in the future, I plan to compare and contrast film versions of the musicals if they exist. For now, I will give a brief explanation of where I saw it performed (if applicable) and the main reason I love the story. I hope to do reviews on all these musicals in the future, so stay tuned! Here’s my top ten favorite Broadway musicals
8. Phantom of the Opera
This is one that I haven’t seen in a stage production, but I very much enjoyed the film version of this musical. The main reason I love it is because of the story of redemption. This one is definitely high on my must see list!
1. Beauty and the Beast
This is not only my favorite musical, but also my favorite film of all time. I had the chance to see a local production when I was in high school and loved the stage version as much as I loved the film. The main reason I love it is because of the redemption and transformation of the Beast (are you noticing a pattern here? lol) It’s truly is one of the greatest stories of all time. I want to see a Broadway level of this one so bad!
[Note: When I review this story, I will focus on the film version, but also highlight differences from the stage play]
There you have it. These are my top ten favorite Broadway musicals. Number #11 on my list, which I do also plan to review, would be Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. There are a few other plays that are not on this list that I plan to review in the future as well, including In the Heights, Chicago, Cats (which I will see for the first time this summer!), and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I also hope to someday see the stage versions of The Lion King and Aladdin. Stay tuned to my blog to find out more about these musicals and what Christians can take away from these stories.
[If you haven’t yet, you can also check out my first Broadway review of the premiere musical First Wives Club by clicking here]