Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Okay, so this is a book review site, but a quick review of the musical version of Wicked which I saw on Saturday with some lovely people. I actually liked it. I found myself smiling, laughing, interested in what would happen to the characters and singing the songs later in my head, certainly not out loud, since I didn't want to hurt my friends' ears and embarrass myself publicly. But I'm not a theatre critic so if I'm smiling, laughing and caring about the outcome and singing later, then that is a successful musical for my money. I sound surprised that I liked the musical because I really loved Wicked as a book. And usually my love of a book dooms my enjoyment of the movie or play version. And Wicked the musical is naturally incredibly different from the book, it kind of has to be. You can't make a violent, sexual and political musical based on characters from the Wizard of Oz and have 8 year olds attend with their parents. So the musical is vastly different but still entirely enjoyable for me. See it if you get a chance and musical theatre doesn't creep you out.

And on the fairy tale theme, over the long Memorial day weekend I read Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire. Great book. Once again, Mr. Maguire takes a story that everyone knows, this time its Cinderella, and sets the tale on its head, the basic premise still exists but its been shot through with depth, complexity, and ambiguity. Told from the point of view of Iris, who is not so much an ugly stepsister as a horribly plain stepsister, Confessions is set in 17th Century Holland and follows the story of Iris, her mother Margarethe and her mildly retarded older sister Ruth, as they flee an angry mob in their home country of England, rushing to find safety with Margarethe's family in Holland. Finding no family left in Holland, Margarethe struggles to find work and lodging for herself and her daughters and ends up keeping house for a local painter. The painter is incredibly talented, helps Iris find her own skill as an artist and provides an opportunity for Margarethe to climb the social ladder to become housekeeper for one of the artist's clients. As the fortunes of Iris' family appear to improve, in comes Clara, the Cinderella character, a pampered and isolated child who is lovely beyond words and at the same time dreamy and spoiled. And of course Cinderella's mother dies, Margarethe marries her father, ball, prince etc. But while the basic story follows that of the Cinderella fairy tale, Gregory Maguire is able to inject the story with so much humanity and realism. While this is certainly still a fanciful tale with mystery and magic, the characters are not black and white. The stepmother and stepsisters aren't evil and Clara as Cinderella is certainly no saint. I love the way Maguire is able to flesh out the simple fairy tale and make it something fresh and original. This book is a study in contrasts, beauty and ugliness, kindness and cruelty. Maguire's ability to contrast the static and formulaic fairy tale against his dynamic, developed and flawed characters is compelling and a heck of a fun ride.

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