Fans of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its film adaptation will love Broadway’s Wicked. The hit show, which has delighted audiences since opening in 2003, is currently “defying gravity” in an open run at New York City’s Gershwin Theatre. Based on Stephen Maguire’s novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, the musical is a prequel to Dorothy’s time in Oz, which reveals the untold story of the villain of the classic tale.
The production begins with the death of the Wicked Witch of the West. Glinda, the good witch, arrives on the scene and recalls her history with the woman once known as Elphaba. Galinda, as Glinda was known as at the beginning of the story, and Elphaba meet as roommates at Shiz University. While the former is incredibly popular among the students, the latter is bullied for her green skin. Elphaba and her sister Nessarose are the daughters of the governor of Munchkinland, but it is rumored that Elphaba was the product of an affair between the girl’s mother and a mysterious stranger who owned a bottle of green elixir.
Glinda and Elphaba are initially enemies, but become friends through a course of unlikely events. Elphaba has a penchant for magic and a passion for animals. Her interest in creatures of all species endears her to Dr. Dillamond, who teaches courses on the subject. He informs Elphaba of the oppressive actions being taken against animals in Oz, such as taking away their ability to speak and locking them away in cages.
Although Elphaba and Glinda have formed a tentative friendship they find themselves at odds once again upon the arrival of the attractive and charming Prince Fiyero. Both women are in love with the young man, which complicates the situation even further, particularly when Glinda realizes Fiyero does not reciprocate her feelings. Despite this knowledge, Glinda accompanies Elphaba to meet the Wizard, who has heard of the green-skinned girl’s ability to perform unbelieveable magic.
After casting a spell from the Grimmerie – a book only the magically gifted can read – upon the Wizard’s request that enables all monkey servants in the city to grow wings, Elphaba learns the leader is the person behind the mistreatment of animals in the kingdom. Even though he offers the girl everything she could ever desire, Elphaba’s conscious prevails and and she flees Oz with the Wizard’s secret – that he cannot read the Grimmerie himself.
Many years pass, and Elphaba has gained the title of Wicked Witch of the West. The moniker is a result of Madame Morrible – Oz’s Press Secretary – spreading a false rumor due to the girl’s opposition of the Wizard’s regime. Glinda, meanwhile, has become the poster-child for Oz. Deemed “Glinda the Good,” she tells Fiyero that Elphaba does not want to be found and Glinda and Fiyero are engaged – against the prince’s will – through an announcement by Madame Morrible.
Upon returning to the kingdom, Elphaba discovers her sister has become governor of Munchkinland. She returns to the palace to confront the Wizard and release his primate servants. Although he offers to redeem her reputation, the witch refuses and escapes once again – this time with Fiyero in tow – to the prince’s castle. When Elphaba has visions of Nessarose being crushed by a flying house, she runs to the location, encountering Glinda for the first time in years.
Fiyero is caught in the crossfire, Dorothy is captured by Elphaba and the battle between good and evil – or what people believe to be good and evil – continues. Will the Wicked Witch live up to her moniker? Will the prince survive and live happily ever after with Elphaba? Will Glinda clear the name of the Wicked Witch of the West? Will the people of Oz realize the Wizard is a fraud? Will Dorothy live to tell the tale?
Audiences familiar with L. Frank Baum’s novel know the answer to the final question, but are sure to be surprised by what they discover along the way. The backstory to The Wizard of Oz finally gets its moment in Wicked, and the result is altogether delightful.
The musical won the Grammy for Best Musical Show Album – and was nominated for 10 Tony Awards in 2004. It won three, including Best Actress for Idina Menzel’s iconic portrayal of Elphaba
Today, Wicked continues its legacy of success on the Great White Way with eight performances a week. Recently becoming the 10th longest-running Broadway show – surpassing Rent and Jersey Boys – the musical shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. It will continue “Defying Gravity” until theatregoers become blue – or maybe green – in the face.