warning: another long post – sorry, but I blog the same way I would write in my journal or email my mom, sister and aunt (hi Mia!). 🙂
I don’t consider myself a real “city” girl. I’m not a country girl either. I’m just somewhere in between, equally content and competent to maneuver Santa Monica Blvd or to break off some wild sage from a desert roadside.
But I will admit to having a strange fascination for the glamour (potential and past) of Hollywood.
When my family moved to the suburbs of Los Angeles in the mid-80’s, I was more than ready to leave the rural confines of my Idaho hometown. My mother, born in Barcelona, is accustomed to a city’s pace, but won’t drive freeways. My father, a small-town country boy in most respects, is not drawn to the bustle of a city. So, in high school, I rarely had a chance to see the City of Angels, even though I lived only about 20 minutes from its very vibrant heart. But on the rare occasions that I did, there was always a wonder that took me over. The excitement of a chance sighting or even an encounter with a “star” made me flutter a little bit. But it was more than that. It’s a place where people change their lives. Where people’s lives are changed whether they want them to be or not. It’s a destination for artists to find their big break. There’s an energy to the city that I’m fascinated by. And as I’ve gotten older and have seen more sides to it, I know there is much more to L.A. than all of this. But for me, there will always be a large dose of that energy.
So it was with my most recent visit, with Han & DK, that I was reminded of this fascination, this nameless excitement of a magical place where people can be stars.
And it was personified when we drove into Hollywood to take DK on a bit of a sightseeing tour. We drove up Hollywood Blvd, Han pointing out sites of interest as I strained to see the Hollywood sign, something that I always do when I get the chance. He made his way to Laurel Canyon and we wound our way through the curving streets up and up to Mulholland to illustrate why one of the rides at California Adventure is named after this road. Han pointed out movie studios from an overlook and I could only muster a mystified silence as I thought about how many people, famous, rich or not, who make their living in this town, who struggle every day or not.
We made our way down the hills and took Sunset for a while, teasing DK that we might see some paparazzi. Han pointed out all the famous clubs he’s played in, and we’d supply other names to give her a reference, to understand the level of fame we were talking about. We wandered into Beverly Hills briefly and then made our way back to Santa Monica Blvd, where we noticed some smoke billowing not too far ahead of us. We later found out that it had been a nightclub that had caught on fire. We detoured off the main street, partly because traffic was getting heavy and partly because DK was a little scared by the billowing smoke. We made our way to visit G, a friend of Han’s who he works with regularly when he needs to master the records he’s working on. G recommended a Mexican restaurant on Sunset, El Compadre, for dinner and that’s where we went next. We’d already had a fabulous day, starting off with an early morning jaunt to Disneyland for a few hours, then a couple hours in the hotel pool and room service for lunch. Then there we were, enjoying a yummy meal and there was still so much more to come.
We entered the Pantages Theater on Hollywood Blvd, its neon sign lighting up the gloaming Tuesday evening. The lobby was filled with theater-goers and I was thrilled to be among them to see the musical (my first professional one to see live) “Wicked.” It was my gift to DK for her birthday, but it was something that I was also especially interested in. The theater was extravagant and gorgeous. As DK & I walked around, I often thought of the movie “Moonstruck” when Cher goes to the Met with Nicolas Cage to see “La Boheme.” Or Julia Roberts when she goes to the opera in San Francisco with Richard Gere (what opera did they see?). I tried to ignore the various vendors hawking the play’s merchandise in an effort to keep the magic going.
Moving into the house to take our seats, the wonder surged again. The stage was elaborately set for the show with a huge dragon near the ceiling, its wingspan stretching the entire length of the stage. Each side contained what looked like scaffolding but was designed to resemble the workings of a clock. The seats were plush and fortunately, we were on the aisle so we all were comfortable. As we waited, I had a great opportunity to take in the other audience members. The extreme degrees of dress were surprising. We’d chosen to “dress up” a bit, though there were others much more gussied up and still many others who were dressed down. Anything goes, as they say.
When the lights went down and the audience began to applaud, I moved to the edge of my seat without realizing it. I stayed there until the first act was over, fighting back tears from the sheer emotion of what I’d just witnessed.
I went into this experience, purposefully, not knowing much about the story. Not knowing the music, the characters. I wanted to be won over and not have any preconceived notions. It so often feels like I don’t let myself have that anymore. I always want to know what’s happening, what’s going to happen or avoid it because I know I won’t like what’s happening.
And so it was that I was swept up in the music, the acting, the lights, the sheer force of this musical about a misunderstood woman who, because, in part, of how she looks, is made to be wicked. Or at least perceived as such. I was caught a little off-guard when the main characters each made their first appearance and how the audience reacted with thunderous applause at the mere sight of them. And how after each big number, the same would happen. I don’t know why this surprised me, I just wasn’t expecting it. But it was awesome!
And it was funny! And exciting. Thrilling even. And poignant, beautiful. A tribute to friendship and loyalty but also a commentary on how others can influence how we see the world to suit their own ambitions, which is something that happens whenever you watch a political press conference these days.
I strained to hear every word so that I could stay caught up with the story. It was incredible how they moved the story along with each song and how much emotion the actors could evoke in their voices as they sang. And these actors. Wow. These are stars. And not who most people would consider as stars, smiling out at us from magazine covers, many with little, if any, talent. But when I think of Hollywood and its potential magic, the actors in plays like this are the people I think of. These talented, amazing women and men who sing and dance and make magic right before your eyes.
I was so impressed with the subtle way they transformed Elphaba (played by Eden Espinosa) into a character we all recognize from our childhood, the Wicked Witch of the West. And how Glinda (played by Megan Hilty) becomes Glinda was equally marvelous. And did I mention it was funny? I was pleasantly surprised when I suddenly laughed out loud at something that was original and unexpected.
Perhaps I should have played it more cool, and been more attentive to how DK was probably perceiving the whole thing, but I’ll admit I was being too selfish with my own wonder of it all to be cool or reserved. When the first act ended, with the incredible showstopper “Defying Gravity” where you see Elphaba lifted above the stage with her cape streaming around her, I was moved to tears (even now writing to describe it, my eyes well up from the memory of its powerful mood).
During the intermission, I walked in a bit of a daze as DK and I tried to get into a bathroom. But all of the lines were impossibly long so we decided we could hold off. Han bought DK the Broadway soundtrack as a souvenir (a fine choice).
We took our seats for the second act and I was swept away again as they moved to resolve the conflicts and finish the story. Again, the emotion and intensity of the scenes were spectacular and moving. The way they built the friendship between Elphaba and Glinda was masterfully done and very true to the ways women can be with each other, whether they’re friends or sisters. We are hurtful and mean at times, jealous, joyous, and loyal to a fault at other times. We’re emotional and full of pride, and still willing to do what we can so that those we care most about can succeed or find love or just be who we need to be, the only way we know how.
Another thing I truly enjoyed is how the Wizard of Oz characters are woven into the story. I won’t give anything away (maybe that’s silly to say, perhaps I’m the only one who didn’t know the story!), except to say that once Boq changed, I tried to figure out how the others would play into it and I was right about them! It made me want to watch the Wizard of Oz again and see how it flows from this story.
When the play was over, I was in tears. And as the actors made their curtain calls, I nearly blubbered a bit. I remember feeling like that when I saw plays in high school, of course, this experience goes way beyond such a thing, but it’s about the effort and talent that it takes to stir up that kind of emotion in people. It’s wondrous.
And it’s a bit different than seeing a concert although there are some overlapping feelings. I don’t quite know how to analyze that just yet, so I’ll ponder it some more. Which makes me then think of myself and that as I write this and consider my own experience of being on stage, reading/performing my poetry, I wonder if people think this way about me. Because I don’t think that of myself. I enjoy the opportunity but I don’t seek the limelight to make my living and so perhaps I think I don’t belong in the same frame of reference. And maybe these actors don’t think of it like that either. And maybe musicians don’t either. But there it is.
We made our way through the throngs back out on to Hollywood Blvd, shuffling over the stars of Bette Davis and Jackie Gleason embedded on the Hollywood Walk of Fame beneath our feet. We got to the car (thanks for letting us borrow it, Mom & Dad!) and easily merged on to 101 South, heading back to our hotel in Anaheim, all of us re-living the play and its energy. As we drove, the Los Angeles skyscrapers towered into the night, blinking back at us with small spaces of light. And all around us was magic.
p.s. I’ll be getting a copy of the book this weekend. Can’t wait!