In 1996 Gregory Maguire wrote an ingenious novel about Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. In Maguire’s sensitive, intelligent backstory, Glinda the Good Witch and Elphaba started out as college roommates and fast friends. Elphaba the brilliant student spoke out against the persecution of talking animals. And also everyone was creeped out over her green skin so they hated her. Glinda was pretty, mostly vapid and had political ambitions that gave her a certain moral flexibility. The ruling Wizard, oddly reminiscent of Hitler, Nixon and President Logan of 24, uses an annoying innocent from Kansas to martyr Elphaba. Glinda ends up in a powerful cabinet position. It’s a fabulous read.
In 2003, an adaptation of the story opened on Broadway as a musical. Friends returned from New York wide-eyed and spellbound. I was intrigued. When I think of big selling musicals, I don’t think of themes like the evils of totalitarianism or the importance of sisterhood .
I shelled out £55 per ticket – stratospheric price -- and watched. First of all, I was in the second row and mesmerized by the way Idina Mendes’ green makeup did not run or smear on her clothes or any other person she touched. Second, the set was a wonder – fantastical, magical, soaring art deco. A rain shower done with fast-moving pelts of yellow lights is particularly impressive. Third, the material is a goldmine. Truly. The film of the Wizard of Oz is never explicitly mentioned, but the musical is in continual homage to the images – from Glinda descending in a bubble to those ruby slippers. These images, and, more importantly, the characters, are important to the shared history of Americans. They are absolutely electrically charged with meaning.
It’s almost to the level of Jesus Christ Superstar, which I think paved the way for Wicked by plucking our most revered icons from scriptures and putting them on stage. Jesus Christ Superstar maybe turned my perception of Jesus around by fifteen degrees or so, though. Wicked got me one hundred and eighty, about-face, holy shit. How could I have been so naïve as to believe that the Wicked Witch of the West really was wicked? How could I have been blinded by Glinda’s beauty and not seen the slimy, two-faced political savvy?
But, you know, I saw the movie (read the scriptures) every year. The movie was true.
Elphaba is freakin’ bright green. She is also a beacon of honour, integrity, compassion and courage. Unfortunately, in our world one is as rare as the other. Truly virtuous people are about as feasible and welcome in Oz (or any other world) as are the bright green.
The musical didn’t go that far. It didn’t have to - the ideas stayed with me and that’s important. For that and for the set, I would recommend it.
Allow me to trash the songs though before I finish. They are all forgettable pop rubbish. The lyrics are done in a very personal “I feel so bad/good/green . . .” which is very wrong. The characters and dialogue evoked Harry Potter on an acid trip in Kansas with midgets. The songs could have easily gone in the same weird, wonderful, post-modern direction. Instead, they were painfully sincere and simple. If the lyricists had paid attention to the lessons of Wicked, they would have realized that in today’s world, sincere and simple can’t be trusted anymore.
Swann1719 wrote: Allow me to trash the songs though before I finish... They are all forgettable pop rubbish. The lyrics are done in a very personal “I feel so bad/good/green . . .” which is very wrong. ...They were painfully sincere and simple.
I like sincere and simple, yet I agree with you that the songs aren't up to scratch. I got the impression they were so carried away with visions of future Tonys that no one held them they weren't holding each other to the usual standards.
"Like a comet pulled from orbit as it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder halfway through the wood..."
Does not come close to rhyming and the dissonance it causes hits me everytime I hear it. I like the song but I can't help but feel it could've been much better if they just hadn't let themselves be carried away by their metaphors. 'Defying Gravity is the only one I can hear without thinking 'needs a polish.'
Swann1719 wrote: Ah, I agree. And they didn't even get the Tony in 2003 anyway. Hah. I think Avenue Q is a much more clever musical - the songs move the story forward and are spellbindingly funny.
agreed. a much better show all around.
Have to rock the boat here and proclaim my warm smooshy spot for this musical. I was a lover of the book first and adored it's intelligent spin on the whole story - when I heard there would be a musical I was aghast. The material was far too serious and complicated surely for the cheezy musical treatment. I was determined to hate it, and indeed I have a strong dislike for most modern musicals - but I got swept away with cheesy joy by this show - in a way I haven't been by a show since I was seven years old and saw Phantom for the first time. The whole thing is so unashamedly camp and cheesy and utterly tongue in cheek that I love it - including the songs. Idina Menzel is a goddess of the stage as well. After seeing the show I left in a giddy state bouncing along and finding myself suddenly bursting into:
"SO if you care to find me! LOOK to the western sky!!!!"
like a maniac.
Which I am - which is why I'm probably the only one here who adores it. But I do.
It is a dreadful load of old camp tosh with grotty songs - I loved every minute of it yet couldn't for the life of me hum one of the tunes a day later, but then I like candy floss and fireworks too and they don't last very long....
For anyone who likes some intelligent spectacle with their theatre, the writer/director David Farr will be presenting his version of the Ramayana in London next week for a four week run. If it is anything like his superb and imginative version of The Odyssey last year it will be a memorable event: