I waited four years to see Stephen Schwartz’s Wicked.
It was well worth the wait.
I sat in the gallery, high, high up in the air above the stage. Looking over the edge was truly terrifying; I could see myself tumbling through empty air to meet my end on the cushioned seats below. The set was very intricate. The stage was framed in gears and cogs, rusted and industrial. At the very top, scowling down at the audience perched a giant, metallic dragon. Throughout the production, the set was referred to as “the great dragon clock”, serving as a constant reminder of the impending passage of time.
The music was great. No. Not great. More like superb, or exquisite, or (as one prominently featured character might say) “Wonderful.” The music was powerful, whimsical, enthusiastic, dark, and altogether captivating. Of course it helps that the two female leads (Glinda and Elphaba) sang with so much commitment to perfection that I could have sworn there were angels in the room. Although, when I looked around for the angles, all I found were flying monkeys.
The most remarkable aspect of Wicked‘s music was it’s ability to reveal hidden contrasts. For those of you who don’t know, one of the major themes in the production is what makes someone ‘wicked’. Does being different make you wicked? How about going against the norm? Is the majority or the minority in society the ‘wicked’ factor? The play seems to point toward the greater society as the true force for evil in the world. The music underlines this thought. The celebration of the townspeople in the opening number is shrouded in diminished, minor, ‘scary sounding’ music that completely contrasts with the joyous, ‘ding-dong the witch is dead’ lyrics. So, although the words say one thing, the music is able to portray a completely opposite idea. The audience finds itself rooting for the underdog and outcast, Elphaba, as she tries to do what she feels is morally correct. Everyone is thrilled when she finally decides:
“I’m through excepting limits, ‘Cause someone says there so.”
in “Defying Gravity”, the final piece in Act I. She decides that she would rather follow her moral thoughts and be labeled ‘wicked’ rather than forsake her values and follow the ‘righteous’ society. There is some part in all of us that yearns to have the courage to break away from others and live by our own beliefs regardless of consequences.
Then, there is the theme of friendship. The unlikely making of Galinda and Elphaba’s friendship, in the middle of “Dancing Through Life” is an especially poignant, human moment. The ‘popular’, do-no-wrong, bubble-gum Galinda reaching out to lift up the awkward, unaccepted, Elphaba. The bond between the two characters is profound and real. What good is a play without a little “friends are forever” theme?
I can’t put into words exactly how I feel about Wicked. It was a masterpiece. A work of deliberate genius.
It wasn’t just good. It wasn’t just great.