Editor’s Notebook column
By Rick Palsgrove
What is it about the play “Wicked” that makes it so popular?
Admittedly, I am not well versed in the world of stage musicals, though I do know a lot of Broadway tunes because, when I was a kid, my sister enjoyed musicals and would play her record albums of many of them in her room. I could hear the songs – ballads, dance numbers, mood setters – through the wall our rooms shared. Many of those songs and plays did not appeal to me, but I did grow to like some, particularly “West Side Story.” I can only hope my sister knows songs by The Who and Bob Dylan from hearing them through that same wall as I spun those records on my turntable.
But back to “Wicked.” The show, which is insanely popular, is the back story of the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch from “The Wizard of Oz.” The show recently had a run of performances at the Ohio Theatre in Columbus.
Being a fan of the 1939 film,“The Wizard of Oz,” as well as its past history as a possible political allegory in the original book by L. Frank Baum, I’m a little wary of a play that tweaks the beloved and intriguing story.
But I have not seen “Wicked” so I’m in no position to critique it. So, I turned to my local theatre expert extraordinaire, Brenda Watts, who was once a member of the Town Hall Players theatre group in Groveport in the 1980s and 1990s, for input on the play.
“Well, the show itself is gorgeous,” said Watts of “Wicked.” “The sets and costumes are incredible. The songs are soaring and beautiful. Who wouldn’t enjoy a musical experience with all of that happening right in front of your eyes as well as the gorgeous sound waves booming into your own chest?”
Watts thinks part of the show’s appeal began with its original cast.
“Idina Menzel played the Wicked Witch of the West (she more recently was the speaking and singing voice for the ice queen, Elsa, in the Disney movie, ‘Frozen’). And Glinda the Good Witch of the North was played by Kristen Chenoweth (the pixie-like Broadway star),” said Watts. “Both of these women have a huge following. Also, the show started off as a book first – and was part of a series of novels. As a novel, it was very popular. There also was a built-in fan base of the books. The musical’s plot does split from the book ‘Wicked,’ as so many do, and follows the 1939 movie, ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ more closely than the book ‘Wicked’ had.”
Watts describes “Wicked” as an origins story of the two famed fictional witches.
“It tells a story of how life and people can be cruel to someone, how a person’s looks can determine how they are treated or mistreated by others,” said Watts.
She said a strength of the show is the story itself.
“It’s a tale of the misunderstood underdog,” said Watts. “It shows how the Wicked Witch of the West was not actually truly evil. She’s brilliant and magically-gifted and has a passion for helping others who are less fortunate (in this case sentient animal citizens).”
But then, said Watts, she was ostracized by family, community, and schoolmates because of her looks and her resultant behavior was more of a lashing out at others rather than a greedy drive for power.
“I think a lot of women can identify with that,” said Watts. “The ‘beautiful’ women sometimes receive more attention and opportunities than those of us who are not classically beautiful. Family may not always be supportive to those who may be the green sheep of the family.”
Put all this together and you have a popular hit show.
“The show really had no place to go but directly into the hearts and minds of millions of theater-lovers,” said Watts.
Rick Palsgrove is editor of the Southeast Messenger.
I also wonder about a popular thing’s draw. My tastes run to the obscure, so I am skeptical of cultural works that hit a chord with many people. Thanks for the piece.