The Apollo Victoria Theatre in London has been the home to the hit musical Wicked since 2006 – though the musical originally began on Broadway in 2003. The original cast featured big musical theatre stars: Idina Menzel as Elphaba, Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda and Joel Grey as the Wizard. Wicked has become a huge staple of musical theatre since.
Wicked is based upon Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. The novel provides an alternative telling to L. Frank Baum’s classic 1900 story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was later adapted into a film, The Wizard of Oz, in 1939, starring Judy Garland.
With three Tony awards and a Grammy for the original cast album, this West End hit holds critical acclaim and appears deserving of its place among other longer-running musicals such as Les Misérables and Phantom of the Opera. While the songs are amazing – indeed it’s likely you’ll leave the theatre singing along to ‘Defying Gravity’ or ‘For Good’ – and the cast is always highly talented, after ten years on stage Wicked’s glaring fault has finally been noticed.
This glaring fault can be missed if you’re not looking in-depth and just accept the occurring events. The fault with Wicked is its plot-line. The story is based on the premise that actually the Land of Oz is run as a dictatorship and that Elphaba is actually a long-suffering and abused revolutionary who attempts to rescue animals and free speech. This might have worked, except that throughout, the future Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, is treated awfully by her entire family and later her best friend, Galinda. It’s also very odd that everyone is scared of her because she’s green – yet their capital is the Emerald City. It just doesn’t add up.
This plot is truly tragic but somewhat bearable until Wicked takes a turn towards the melodramatic. The final scenes reveal that Elphaba has in fact only faked her death to be with her beloved, who is now recognizable as the scarecrow, and she just so happens to be the Wizard’s daughter. Even worse, all the ‘bad’ characters that used to run Oz are either sent away or simply incarcerated and even though Galinda still helped to vilify Elphaba, she now gets to take over Oz. It appears as if the writers are trying to make it seem that because Galinda doesn’t know that Elphaba is alive that she is punished with guilt – but let’s face it, as the song goes, ‘No One Mourns the Wicked.’
Wicked is unbearable to watch, as a character you grow to sympathize with is continually oppressed to the point that it becomes ridiculous. From Elphaba’s sister being confined to a wheelchair and yet hating her sister for helping her, to Galinda somehow becoming nice within a single scene and having a personality change, Wicked takes everything to extremes and in doing so removes any emotional reality or believability.
Unfortunately, though critically acclaimed and certainly appealing to the masses, it seems Wicked will never hold up against other more emotionally real musicals such as Into the Woods or The Book of Mormon. Though it looks set to be adapted to film soon, bringing Wicked to a wider audience, the musical lacks a true sense of meaning. Many will still enjoy the catchy songs written by Stephen Schwartz but perhaps with time, viewers will eventually realise the lack of heart of this musical possesses and return to the original and sensible Wizard of Oz.