Charlie Reynolds (@charlieareyno) discussing the themes in the hit musical Wicked for @MTAS_Official
SPOILER ALERT: this article contains some details about the story
Wicked is based on the Gregory Maguire novel ‘Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West’, a somewhat parallel to the novel ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ by L. Frank B Baums and the 1939 film ‘The Wizard of Oz’. The story re-imagines the world of Oz, creating a completely different universe, in which we are told the untold story of an unlikely friendship between Glinda and Elphaba. Friendship is a huge aspect of the story, where both must choose different paths, truly testing their relationship. Glinda has a desire to be popular, wanting acceptance from her fellow citizens, whereas Elphaba is determined to remain true to who she is, having huge consequences on how the two end up. The two are surrounded by an array of characters, from the heart throb Fiyero to a power hungry headmistress, Madame Morrible. The show is now in its 10th year and I hope it will carry on for many more to come.
The story deals with a reversal of character roles, where a well-known villain in fact is put forward as the hero. Through the song The Wizard and I, we see that Elphaba wants to be seen as a noble figure. Elphaba’s admiration towards the Wizard is an endearing aspect, where to begin with, it is he the audience perceives to be the hero. In the film we discover that he is in fact a fraud, but still possesses an essence of goodness, where he tries to provide the characters with a sense of fulfilment. However, in the musical, he is portrayed as a somewhat totalitarian leader, who not only tires to suppress the talking animals but also in his campaign against Elphaba.
Elphaba is branded with a stereotype of being the ‘wicked witch’ allowing her to be outcasted against the rest of Oz. The oppression of the animals in fact provides a political element to the story, drawing on political aspects that have happened in the past. It is somewhat a parallel to the oppression of minorities, who literally become mute due to the power of government. Animalistic features were used in vast propaganda schemes in our world’s history, where if a certain minority was pictured as an animal, they were seen as less human. Wicked of course does not dwell on these issues to a huge extent but the musical does lead through a conscious thought based around these ideas. The Wizard is a manipulative character, pretending that his acts are for the greater good, when in fact his only motives are to remain in power. The Wizard even says, “one sure way to bring people together is to give them a really good enemy” by which in doing so, the citizens of Oz remain on his side.
Throughout the musical there is no true definition of good being good and evil being evil. The Wizard feels that he is acting for the benefit of the greater good when suppressing the talking animals. Elphaba of course perceives this to be something terrible. The confliction between good and evil, and what it actually is, is current throughout the whole show. Elphaba herself struggles to understand the concept of committing a good deed. By taking the Lion out of his cage, rehabilitating him into the wild, it is seen as a good act in her eyes. However, we later discover that Boq believes it to be something evil, as the Lion has become cowardly. Towards the end of the second act she becomes frustrated that her actions have been ineffective, in which all her deeds have failed to produce a full sense of good that she intended. When capturing Dorothy in the film we see this as something wicked. However, she does this to reclaim her sister’s shoes, who has recently been crushed. Dorothy does what is right in her eyes, but here we see that Elphaba is motivated by good intentions and not evil. The example of the Lion and Dorothy highlight the whole problem with perception. Many perceive her acts as wicked, yet they do not truly understand the full story. We as an audience have this advantage and can therefore relate to Elphaba, truly understanding that there is good within her.
The battle between good and evil parallels well to the friendship between Glinda and Elphaba. Glinda, the popular girl at school, never leaves this hunger to be popular, leading her to somewhat agree with the Wizard’s regime, for the sake of keeping the Ozians ignorant to the truth and keep them on her side. Her love of fame wins when it comes to the relationship she has with Elphaba but this does not make Glinda the villain but heightens the fact that not everyone is good. Glinda is selfish in her own actions but yet still sympathies with the problems Elphaba faces. Glinda herself undergoes a confliction between what is wrong and what is right, having moral obligation to certain aspects of the plot. Elphaba seems to have a clear idea of what she perceives to be right, sticking to her views, willing to be perceived as a wicked witch, as long as she is able to stay true to what she believes in. Glinda however compromises with her feelings by getting wrapped up in the political process of trying to paint Elphaba in a bad light.
Elphaba, despite being perceived as wicked, is able to look past this negative stereotype, as she knows in herself that she is a good person. Glinda thrives to be seen as good, yet aspects of her goodness are somewhat lost in the process, truly highlighting how they both approach life differently. Glinda cannot conceive that there might be someone who does not care what others think of themselves, where as Elphaba accepts who she is and is partly not bothered what people have to say about her appearance and actions. Elphaba’s green exterior has given her a sense of individuality where as Glinda simply strives to be the same as everyone else, depending on the approval of others. Elphaba is coined as the green witch, where being green is a huge aspect of the show. The value of being an individual is highlighted throughout, where Elphaba not only feels that she is different because of her green exterior, but because of her beliefs and ideas.
Despite the problems she faces, through Defying Gravity she accepts the person she is, and understands she must create her own path to achieve what she wants, even if it as the price of being misunderstood. The relationship between Fiyero and Elphaba very much deals with the idea of not judging people by what they look like. The fact Elphaba does sing I’m Not That Girl shows that in some ways she does wish she was like everyone else, and desires to be loved by someone. Through As Long As Your Mine the love between the two is truly felt, in which both characters make us believe there is a true emotional and physical connection between the two. However Nessarose, who lives with a disability, also longs to have the chance to be loved. Despite becoming Governor she is still haunted by her chair, where she feels the need to trap Boq as her assistant, just for the sake of having love. An interesting technique that is used is how the ensemble is presented. The whole idea around being an individual is to be different from others. It should of course be celebrated that we differ from others, possessing different talents and having different personalities. The ensemble however represent the “common herd” that a lot of people attempt to fit in with, where by they all look slightly similar in their costumes and aesthetic.
The whole design of Wicked is a powerful feature, where the set, costumes, props, make-up and lighting create a variety of worlds within Oz, from Shiz University to the famous Emerald City. Eugene Lee had to re-create the world that was inspired by Maguire’s newfound image of Oz. With the use of mechanical cogs and gears to an ancient clock, time is a huge aspect of the set and the show. Glinda’s bubble is designed as a clock pendulum, in which she begins the story by going back in time. Time for this musical is something that makes all the plot twists that much more exciting. The show starts with No One Mourns The Wicked, where we immediately find out that the wicked witch of the west is dead, instantly informed of the death of Elphaba as well as finding out as to why Elphaba becomes green. The show immediately goes back in time, starting at the time when both were at University. A vast amount of action happens until the end, leading back to the opening. The fact the audience are provided with the information at the beginning, makes the twists at the end that more exciting and emotional.
The original story that this whole culture is based on has true heart, hence why the legacy of the novel can continue through the musical. The show deals with a wide variety of important themes that are current in today’s society giving the show true meaning. Not only does it deal with serious issues, but in fact contains a vast amount of humour. Glinda’s perky character to Elphaba’s sarcastic manner make for a great comedy pairing. The stage gleams with green, alluring the audience within its wonders, where visitors and citizens are fashioned in green dress and tinted glasses. The musical does not attempt to parody the original novel or the film. Nor does it seek to repeat the story. It instead dazzles the audience with something completely new.
*Photos used are from the official Wicked website taken by Matt Crockett