Some background? One of the first things I did when I visited New York in 2007 was find somewhere showing Once, because I'd been waiting to see the bloody thing for months already and it didn't get a UK release for ages after that, either. And it was brilliant. And then you add in the way the casting was kind of fated (what would it have been like starring Cillian Murphy? I can't even think. Probably a bit like watching Jonathon Rhys Meyers in August Rush?) because how much of what you're watching is Glen Hansard, and how much is what was written? Because the songs are his and Marketa Irglova's anyway, and they are the film. And the film pushed them together in real life, and then they broke up and it's all such an odd story.
It was highly amusing watching them at the Oscars that year, because it looks a lot like they're not even speaking to each other right up to the point where they have to go up on stage and actually accept the award.
[much spoilery angsting about adapting Once... And much less angst about Wicked.]And I knew I shouldn't have rewatched the film two days before going, because comparisons are probably not going to help, but... I'm not sure I would have loved the film quite so much had it done the story the same way the show does. And that bugged me beyond reason. During one scene I was literally slunk down in my seat with embarrassment at the dialogue (well, a couple of scenes, actually). Not that the film doesn't have slightly cringy bits, but they're like that because they're awkward - not because someone keeps decided to make loud declarations vocalising the subtext all the time. I can't help thinking it's a worrying sign that we both walked out and said we wanted to watch the film again to, er, take the taste away a bit.
Is that just what you have to do to make something into a musical? I mean, the first time I saw Wicked was a teeny bit similar - lots of muttering about Disneyfication (especially when 'As Long As You're Mine' began.). And then they changed the end!! But, importantly, Wicked came from a book - a fairly nasty, pitch black meditation on fascism and propaganda in the context of Oz. They made it into a brightly coloured, slightly sarky and tween-friendly comedy about an odd-couple friendship with a bit of the propaganda stuff chucked in for colour. And then Stephen Schwartz wrote some awesome songs. 'Defying Gravity' always gave me goosebumps, even when I didn't know the song; and I went away and played the soundtrack on repeat (because there's a reason it's one of the biggest shows around. Those songs burrow into your brain and never leave.) and I saw it again and loved it. And I've watched it once a year ever since, including once on Broadway and once at the original theatre in San Francisco. And it's a show that changes drastically depending on the cast (what I wouldn't give to see Julia Murney again. And if anyone plays Fiyero remotely camp *glares at Adam Garcia*, it doesn't work at all.). My point is that Wicked's trump card as a musical are the performances and the songs, and the lightness. Once... doesn't have any of those advantages over the source material, so I'm left wondering what the point is?
Don't get me wrong - the music is still awesome; of course it is. And everyone sings and plays beautifully, and it looks lovely. But the music is obviously inherited as is from the film, for the most part, and is already awesome. The staging, really, is the original concept here, and it's lots of fun and a nice interpretation of the cobbled-together comraderie in the film (the evening jamming session around the table, definitely). There's a lot of energy on stage; a nice tension from watching the band glide on and off from the sidelines and try to keep up with the prop/scene switches - all that is definitely in the spirit of the original story. That, and seeing the music performed live, are the only reasons you'd really go see the show rather than just watch the film, surely? Because what they do to the characters (and by extension the story) is actually painful. I get why there's padding - it's a short film, and musicals have to at least pretend to provide more value for the vast amount of money the tickets cost. But the fact it feels like padding is what bugs me.
It's not so much that Girl is now the original manic pixie dreamgirl (although that is by definition irritating) but that she's now the catalyst for the entire plot. Loudly, and pushily. With an entire back-up chorus of loud, irritating Czech flatmates (and the one-liner about Fair City was amusing in the film; it's bloody done to death now). Part of the joy of the film is watching two people push each other, reluctantly, out of their comfort zones without even wanting, or meaning, to. Now we have a near-suicidal, annoyingly passive Guy being pushed around mercilessly as a personal mission by Girl. And he never does a bloody thing for himself. Not so interesting, anymore. The plot isn't changed so much as the characters' motivations - once you make Guy ready to walk away from his guitar(!), the entire thing is undermined, and she barely changes at all (performing 'The Hill' umprompted is the worst part. It's supposed to be a moment of reluctant revelation because Guy asks her for a song, and she hesitantly chooses one about how she's not well matched with her husband. Done without prompting, it just becomes one more song).
I don't care that they changed things. I care that they changed things that made the film meaningful. Adding in speeches about following your dreams and how much someone means to you doesn't make the show any more meaningful, it just strips it of the delicacy that made it unusual. And while the 'I love you' subtitle is cute, I had no clue until I read it on Wiki this week that she even says that in the film, and it never really mattered. The more literal translation of 'It's you I love' is much better phrasing too in in the context of the conversation, but hey. I hesitate to put it quite like this, but it feels... Americanised? Overly sentimental, certainly. And you have to acknowledge that there's a huge jump from moving from Dublin to London, and Dublin to New York, and it makes the end feel much more final. It does kind of leave you with the feeling that, could they have gotten away with it, they would have had a go at rewriting the ending. Really, after all those bellowed declarations of affection, I wouldn't have been surprised one little bit.