Wicked is a Broadway musical, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Winnie Holzman. It is based on the 1995 Gregory Maguire novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, itself a retelling of the classic 1900 novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum and the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film The Wizard of Oz.
Even if you don’t consider yourself to be very well-versed in the world of musical theatre, chances are you will have heard of Wicked. Inspired by Gregory Maguire’s novel of the same name, which was published in 1995, it premiered on Broadway on October 30th, 2003, after a successful run in San Francisco earlier in the year. The original Broadway cast was made up of musical legends: Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda, Norbert Leo Butz as Fiyero, and Idina Menzel – of Frozen fame – starring as Elphaba.
One of the reasons that Wicked is so popular is the sheer scale of its production. It has been at the Gershwin Theatre on West 51st Street in the Paramount Plaza building in midtown Manhattan since its Broadway debut in 2003. The theatre has the largest seating capacity on Broadway with almost two thousand seats, and Wicked is regularly sold out thanks to its international reputation as one of the top shows to see in NYC. The theatre was designed in an art nouveau style by Ralph Alswang and opened in 1972 as the Uris Theatre before being renamed to honor the Gershwins in 1983. The set is bold, bright – and very, very green.
Wicked is a retelling of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum, from the point of view of the witches who live in the Land of Oz. It follows Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, and Galinda, later known as Glinda the Good Witch, and tells the story of how they met at school, their initial rivalry and dislike of each other, and their eventual friendship before Elphaba’s fall from grace. Although Elphaba and Galinda have a love interest in common, Fiyero, the musical is more interested in themes of friendship, what being ‘wicked’ really means, and understanding other people’s perspectives and motivations.
The original cast album won a Grammy Award and was nominated for ten Tony Awards, eventually winning three, including Best Actress for Menzel. Composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz bought the rights to Maguire’s novel in 1998; although it isn’t an entirely faithful adaptation, Schwartz collaborated with writer Winnie Holzman to create a plot that worked onstage. The musical developed through a series of readings with Chenoweth alongside Stephanie J Block as Elphaba. Menzel joined the production in 2000 along with Joe Mantello as director. Wicked is one of Broadway’s most beloved productions: its scope is epic and its production is huge, glittering, and mesmerizing, but more than that, it is a story that is at its heart about love, truth, and friendship – and those are qualities that audiences will always respond to.
The first act begins as the people of Oz rejoice after the death of Elphaba as Glinda the Good Witch takes center stage. Then the show moves back in time to depict Elphaba’s birth, her relationship with her disabled sister Nessarose and her time at school with Galinda, where they were roommates and rivals. Elphaba’s magical talent is discovered, Prince Fiyero appears, and Galinda and Elphaba become friends before traveling together to meet the Wizard of Oz. There, they discover corruption on an epic scale, and Elphaba runs away after swearing to take her revenge on the Wizard. In the second act, we discover she has been nicknamed the Wicked Witch of the West, while Galinda – now Glinda – has been placed in public opposition to her. When Dorothy reaches the land of Oz, things get even more complicated…
Wicked is packed with catchy melodies and onstage antics, but it is hard to argue that the heart of the story lies with the development of the relationship between Elphaba and Glinda, from What Is This Feeling? too Popular to their last duet, For Good, arguably the most tear-jerking and emotional part of the entire show. The musical is full of spectacle, color, vibrant costumes, and funny lines, but the end of the first act is probably the most visually stunning as Elphaba sings Defying Gravity, the most famous song in the show, and rises slowly into the air. The high notes will send a shiver down your spine.
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