Wicked

“Okay, let’s get this over with, No, I’m not seasick, Yes, I’ve always been green, and No, I didn’t eat grass as a child.”  -Elphaba, The Wicked Witch of the West, from Gregory Maguire’s Wicked.

Everyone knows the tale of the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy, the farm girl from Kansas, is displaced by a tornado with her dog Toto who are both desperately trying to find their way home while wandering through the magical land of Oz. Dorothy follows the yellow brick road to Emerald City in glittery red shoes with her new friends Tin Man, Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion to ask the Wizard of Oz for help. Along the way, they face obstacles including attacks from flying monkeys and the face-off with the Wicked Witch of the West. Good conquers Evil and the Munchins rejoice that Dorothy saves the day while Glinda floats up and away in a bubble. Dorothy clicks her heels whispering “There’s No Place Like Home” until she wakes up in Kansas back with her family. The story neatly ties together like the blue ribbons in Judy Garland’s braids in a happily ever after conclusion.

But could it be possible to consider a more beautifully complicated history of the villain’s demise than the original depiction in the 1939 Wizard of Oz? The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West” reimagined the history of the Witches of Oz in Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel. Maguire’s “Wicked Witch of the West” would later become the 2003 Broadway musical hit “Wicked” which is still touring the world today almost 20 years later.

A few years after the musical first came out, I had the opportunity to see Wicked on Broadway on a field trip to Chicago with my high school choir and Art Department at Westview Jr-Sr High School. I don’t remember much from the show at that time but know that I was deeply moved by the visual production and soaring vocals. The lyrics of songs like “Popular,” “For Good,” and “Defying Gravity” are still very familiar to me because our choir also sang these tunes at the Spring Concert during my senior year of high school.

This past summer when Wicked was being advertised to return to Broadway in Chicago, I knew that we had to see it together. Derek and I are big musical buffs but he had never seen Wicked before. While downtown for another production, we bought our tickets from the Box Office to avoid the extra fees on Ticketmaster. We didn’t realize that at six months out, the show was already selling out. We were lucky enough to get two tickets together in the last row of the auditorium in late November. Wicked is a big deal in Chicago!

The Nederlander Theatre on Randolph Street is a historic building known as the Oriental Theatre. It was first built as a movie palace in the Roaring ’20s for silent films accompanied by organ as well as vaudeville and live jazz performances. The architecture was inspired by an East Asian theme with mosaics, exotic animals, and golden figures. In 2019, the Oriental Theatre was renamed because it was the “right thing to do” after James M. Nederlander in honor of the founder of Broadway in Chicago who was a legendary supporter of broadway productions for over six decades. It felt as if we were going back in time when we walked up the steps to find our seats.

Above: Derek and I at the Oriental Theatre in 2016 to see “West Side Story” and the interior of the renamed Nederlander Theatre before the show in November of 2022

Above: A panoramic view of the audience as we await the show to begin

As the lights dimmed and the music began to swell, the mechanical dragon perched above the stage puffed green smoke over the audience with blazing eyes while looming over all of Oz. Wicked opens at the conclusion of “The Wizard of Oz” with the Munchins rejoicing at the death of the Wicked Witch while Glinda the Good Witch descends on Munchinland in her magical bubble. Glinda speaks with wisdom and poise but is hesitant to celebrate the loss of her friend. This musical tells the Oz story from the perspective of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, who was not wicked at all but just born green and ostracized for the color of her skin.

Green girl meets Mean girl at Shiz University where the unlikely duo of the future Good and Wicked Witches are “frenemies” in a love/hate friendship. Elphaba is a passionate, eager young lady who was bullied by her peers for being born green. She is very protective of her disabled sister and has a compassionate heart for the talking animal citizens of Oz who are being abducted and forced to remain silent. Elphaba has a mission to save the world by speaking out as an activist against the cruel treatment of animals but this passion leads to anger and her development of wickedly magical spells. 

Wicked the Musical Photos

Glinda, on the other hand, is a self-absorbed individual who comes from privilege and goes out of her way to be popular and cruel to those who aren’t. She is Elphaba’s bully until the headmaster assigns them as roommates where they learn to find empathy for each other. Glinda stands up for Elphaba and accompanies her to the Emerald City to meet the Wizard of Oz. As Elphaba becomes more powerful in her magic with her quest to protect the animals, the citizens of Oz label her as the Wicked Witch and Glinda becomes a public figure as the Good Witch of Emerald City. 

Wicked the Musical Photos

These young women are a classic odd couple who miss each other’s company but know that they must choose sides and cannot remain friends. The backstory of how the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion are revealed, and scenes from the Wizard of Oz are revisited from the witches’ perspectives to put a clever twist on the familiar tale. As the plot develops, we are delighted by the spectacular sets, dazzling costumes, and showstopping vocals from Glinda and Elphaba. Wicked is a Broadway masterpiece even if it doesn’t necessarily tack on a happy ending for the characters. However, there are some lessons to be learned in songs like “Defying Gravity” and “For Good” where we realize that no matter how horrible a situation seems, there is always hope. We walk away feeling lighter with the realization that we can take on any adversity that comes our way because all of us are capable of defying gravity! 

Glinda’s lyrics sung to Elphaba in the duet, “For Good”: 

“I’ve heard it said

That people come into our lives

For a reason

Bringing something we must learn

And we are led

To those who help us most to grow

If we let them

And we help them in return

Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true

But I know I’m who I am today

Because I knew you

Photo by JOAN MARCUS

Like a comet pulled from orbit

As it passes the sun

Like a stream that meets a boulder

Halfway through the wood

Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?

But because I knew you

I have been changed for good.” 

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