“Wicked” on Broadway: A Review
Don’t we all love ourselves an anti-hero and a rebel? Don’t we all want to be one deep inside of us? If you want to meet one of Broadway’s finest head over to BroadwayPass and grab yourselves a ticket to the Land of Oz to meet Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West.
“Wicked” is the fifth longest-running musical on Broadway. It premiered in October 2003 at the Gershwin Theatre. It is one of the standard-bearers of Broadway – it is the fifth longest-running, surpassing “Les Misérables” on October 28, 2019, with its 6,681st performance. It is one of only three Broadway shows to gross over $1 billion (the other two being “The Phantom of the Opera” and “The Lion King”). It ranks second only behind the “Lion King”.
The musical is based on Gregory Maguire’s novel “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West”. The lyrics are by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman.
As Act I starts the citizens of Oz are celebrating. The Wicked Witch of the West has finally been defeated. Glinda the Good Witch tells us Elphaba’s story about her mother’s affair and how she drank a green potion that eventually turned Elphaba green. Then Glinda tells the story of their friendship as a flashback begins. Elphaba arrives at Shiz University with her father and disabled sister Nessarose. Due to her disability, she is taken by Madame Morrible under her wing, which leaves Elphaba with her diametrically opposed Galinda. Later, after the two sisters communicate telekinetically, Morrible notices Elphaba’s special abilities and decides to teach her magic. Meanwhile, Elphaba and Galinda fight everywhere they get the chance to. Dr. Dillamond, the only animal professor in the university (a goat) confides to Elphaba that he is getting discriminated against and that there’s a conspiracy to stop animals from speaking. He wants to meet with the Wizard of Oz because he believes that only the Wizard can stop it. Elphaba is dreaming to meet the Wizard and she believes that her magical talent will allow her to one day work with him. This sets in motion the discrimination arc of the story.
Later, another arc sets in motion. Prince Fiyero Tigulaar is introduced. With his easy-going philosophy, he gets a lot of interest from the ladies in Shiz, including Galinda and Elphaba. This sets the love polygon between those three, Boq and Nessarose. The love story is strong and can vary between a variation of Romeo and Juliette to a sweet love comedy.
At Fiyero’s ball, Galinda pranks Elphaba to come with a black witch hat. When Elphaba gets ridiculed, Galinda joins and dances with her. This breaks the ice between the two. Later, in their room, they share secrets and grow even closer. Then Galinda gives Elphaba a makeover.
When in class, they get to know that Dr. Dillamond has been excommunicated and the replacement teacher shows them the cage that will prevent the animals to learn to talk. Elphaba stands up for Dr. Dillamond and accidentally cast a levitating spell on her classmates. She and Fiyero set the cub free and share a tender moment. She then learns from Morrible that the Wizard will meet her. She gets her goodbyes with Nessarose, Glinda (renaming herself in the way Dr. Dillamond used to call her) and Fiyero. He gives her a bouquet, ignoring Glinda’s attempts to get his attention. Then Elphaba and Glinda leave for the Emerald City.
They meet the Wizard. He gives Elphaba a task and when it goes wrong she realizes that the Wizard is behind the plan to stop animals from speaking. When she finds out that the Wizard is a huge fraud she turns away, casts a spell on a broom and flies away.
Discrimination of any kind is not only a problem in the Land of Oz. It is suffered in our world, too, and it’s a very serious issue. There, Dr. Dillamond is sentenced to lose his ability to speak because he’s a goat. He’s a professor in a prestigious institution but gets underestimated because he’s an animal. And that’s the main reason why he loses his ability to speak. Likewise, in our world, you can be judged by your skin color, your religious beliefs, your sexual orientation, and your sex. Taking the ability to speak is a euphemism for losing your right to speak freely just because of the reasons, stated above. Elphaba also gets mistreated for her appearance. She is the object of scorn and ridicule by her peers and even is resented by her father. Here we might have a bigger issue because she is the child of his wife’s infidelity. Anyway, he is not very fond of her and the only reason she finds is her skin color. Her fate resembles vaguely the one of the Phantom from “Phantom of the Opera”.
Comparing the Phantom and Elphaba, they both have one thing in common – they can be considered anti-heroes. They both “turn bad” due to being mistreated. Elphaba being the rebel she is, easily gets behind a cause and is quick to lose her temper. She has a well-developed sense of righteousness and is always willing to help those in need, like that cub and Dr. Dillamond.
In Act II Elphaba is now the villain. The ruling clique around the Wizard has coined her the moniker “The Wicked Witch of the West”. They have also thrown Glinda against her, giving her the name Glinda the Good. The whole “machine” is in motion against Elphaba. They even set up a plan to use Nessarose as a bait to catch her. Fiyero has accepted the position of captain of the guard so he can search for Elphaba. And Madam Morrible engages him to Glinda. Meanwhile, Nessarose is in charge of Munchkinland, after her father’s death. Elphaba pays her a visit and turns her silver slippers into ruby slippers. This backfires because it turns Boq away from Nessa. She casts a spell that backfires, even more, when it makes his heart smaller. Elphaba manages to save him by turning him into a man of tin.
Elphaba returns to the palace to free the monkeys. She parleys with the Wizard, who nearly gets her convinced to join him, but pushes away when she sees Dr. Dillamond who has lost his ability to talk. The Wizard calls his guards, but Fiyero flees with her. Glinda then conjures the plan to use Nessarose as bait. In order to put her in danger, Madam Morrible creates a tornado.
Elphaba and Fiyero share a loving moment that is interrupted by a vision of the tornado that threatens Nessarose. Then she meets Glinda at the site of the tornado. By the way, this is the same tornado that brings Dorothy to the land of Oz. Nessarose is crushed by the house, and the two witches have a heated argument. The guards arrive to capture Elphaba, but Fiyero takes Glinda hostage. The guards capture him. Glinda pleads them to let him go, but they crucify him in a near field, and Elphaba fails to save him.
Elphaba goes to Kiamo Ko where she keeps Dorothy and Toto, her dog. She demands the ruby slippers, that she gave to Nessarose, back. Glinda, after realizing that Madam Morrible can control the weather and that an angry mob marches to get Elphaba, goes there to warn her. Glinda tells Elphaba that Fiyero is dead. The two share a moment to forgive each other, and Elphaba gives Glinda the Grimmerie. Then Dorothy throws a bucket of water on her and she melts. There’s only a green potion left and Glinda takes it to the Wizard, who owns one just like it. He confides that he’s Elphaba’s real father and Glinda banishes him. She then sends Madame Morrible to prison.
Back at the castle, Fiyero, now a scarecrow arrives at Elphaba’s melting spot. She comes out from a hidden door. She’s sad that she can’t tell Glinda, that they are alive. Then they leave the Land of Oz for good.
There is a very strong relationship theme in “Wicked”. Be it love, friendship or family – we have it all. Elphaba and Nessarose’s father turns all of his attention to his disabled little daughter, probably knowing that Elphaba’s not a child of his. The two girls share a very strong bond between them, even a telekinetic one. One the other hand, we have the turbulent relations between Glinda and Elphaba. They go through the whole scale – from being bitter rivals to being best of friends, and to mortal enemies to forgiveness and reconciliation at the end. At one point they form a love triangle with Fiyero being the object of interest of both of them. Contrary to the beliefs of both of them, he picks Elphaba, even making an ultimate sacrifice for her – he becomes a scarecrow and flees his land with her. Glinda takes involuntarily part in another triangle – the one with Nessarose and Boq. Nessa is in love with Boq, who in turn is in love with Glinda. Nessarose even becomes a dictator of the Munchkin land so she can keep him close. Everything fails when he becomes the man of tin. Geometrical love figures are commonly used to add melodrama to the shows. And it is used since Ancient Greek times. In “Wicked” it can vary from silly love comedy to heavy drama comparable to the love of Romeo and Juliet, especially at the point where Fiyero dies and Elphaba fakes her death so they can be together.
Speaking of melodrama we just can’t skip the music of the show. Both the music and the lyrics are written by Stephen Schwartz. The lush music and epic chorus, as well as the singing by the individual actors, are always on point perfectly representing the hurricane of emotions on stage. From the epic opening, “No one mourns the Wicked”, representing the mood of the people when they learn about Elphaba’s demise, and the full of hope “The Wizard and I”, through the cheerful “Dancing through life” and the sad love song “I’m not that girl”, up until “For Good” that concludes Elphaba’s “rebellion” and giving a new start in life with Fiyero. The music received some high honors, with the original cast recording was awarded a Grammy Award in 2005 for Best Musical Show Album.
The original cast also received some awards, with ten Tony Award nominations including two nominations for best actress for Idina Menzel (Elphaba) and Kristin Chenoweth (Glinda), with Menzel taking the prize. Both of them are fascinating in their respective roles, with Cenoweth’s performance being so impressive, that it threatened to overshadow the rebellious Elphaba, who was nonetheless amazing in her own right, leaving very big shoes for the actresses after her. Today we can see the fabulous Hannah Corneau as our favorite green skin anti-hero, and Ginna Claire Mason as her popular best friend – turned enemy – turned friend again. Jake Boyd is in the role of Fiyero, Nancy Opel as Madame Morrible, and Michael McCormick as The Wizard.
The original production received mixed reviews by the critics and huge love by the fans, creating an enormous fan base. The acting and the stage received numerous praises through the years, while the book and the choreography were under criticism. The political messages were clearly understood but were considered inappropriate for such a show. It, however, was loved very much by the fans. This resulted in multiple tours and shows all over the US and the whole world. And that’s why it broke so many records on Broadway. The whole success even led to an auxiliary show. “Behind the Emerald Curtain” gives fans a chance to look in the magical world of Oz – mask, costumes and a chance to meet some of the cast.
If you’re up for some magic and some Wicked fun – don’t hesitate, jump on your brooms and head over to BroadwayPass for some tickets to the Land of Oz.