When Wicked the Musical premiered on Broadway at the Gershwin Theatre back in 2003, critics wrote it off as a rather below average and poorly executed play. It was the word of mouth and some spectacular performances that lured the fans into the theatres. Running successfully for the last thirteen years, the musical has been staged in around fourteen countries, translated into five languages and is by far ‘Broadway’s Biggest Blockbuster’ as stated by The New York Times.
Wicked’s Broadway success led to several other productions and tours of the musical around the world. Today it has broken box office records for the highest weekly gross in London, North America, St. Louis and has an ever-increasing fan following to its name. With each new performance, it manages to entertain the fans enough to leave them waiting for the next show in their region. So now that it is on tour once again, you can get Wicked tickets and find out yourself why the theatrical piece has become such a phenomenon.
The Little Idea That Became Big
It is interesting to note that the idea for this spectacular show was actually conceived by composer and lyricist Stephen Szhwartz while he was on vacation in Hawaii. He came across Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West through a friend and could almost instantly foresee himself adapting it into a theatrical. At that time only Universal had the rights reserved to make an action feature film on the novel. Soon Schwartz managed to convince Maguire to release the rights for a theatrical production.
Stephen Schwartz then invited the Emily Award winning writer Winnie Holzman to write the script for the musical. The two worked closely together and went through numerous ups and downs to come up with the plot of the musical. Later they joined hands with Marc Platt to help in fine-tuning the outline of the show to make sure that the adaptation comes out as an original and entertaining musical rather than a literal translation of Maguire’s novel.
The Inspiring Tale Of Two Witches
Wicked the Musical is the journey of the two main characters of the Land of Oz, the green skinned Wicked Witch of the West Elphaba and the much beautiful and popular Good Witch of the North, Glinda.
The two witches meet at the Shiz University and end up being roommates. Blessed with the gift of magic, Elphaba is approached by the headmistress of the college who sends the two witches together to help the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. They are not only different in terms of looks but also have opposing personalities. Elphaba is honest and generous whereas Glinda is superficial and rather insecure. The twist in the story is that the two also share the same love interest.
They discover that the Wonderful Wizard of Oz is actually not so wonderful and is in fact on a mission to segregate the animals in Oz from the rest of the society. Elphaba who is kind-hearted and courageous, is infuriated at this juncture and vows to save the animals by rebelling against the Wizard. Glinda however chooses to stay back and guard herself and her reputation of a good witch.
The story then takes many interesting turns, showing how the two witches deal with each other and various conflicting situations in the Land of Oz. From enemies to friends and from jealousy to inspiration the musical brilliantly depicts how two different personalities end up influencing each other’s destinies and that of the society they live in.
Thematic Tracks Of Wicked
The Wicked cast album consists of a number of songs, each taking the story forward and keeping the audience engaged throughout. Listening to the numbers can give one a fair idea about the theme and story. The tracks do not give away the twists in the plot but only serve to arouse the interest of the listener.
Stephen Schwartz produced the musical album with the help of musicians Frank Filipetti, Jason Spears, Ted Jenson, Justin Shturtz and Jill Dell’Abate. The album has received tremendous reviews, winning a Grammy for the ‘Best Musical Show Album’ in 2005 and has so far sold over 2, 400,000 copies in the US alone.
The musical opens with the track ‘No One Mourns the Wicked.’ The track has a celebrative as well as melancholic and dramatic feel to it. It first plays on the celebration of the death of Elphaba and towards the end shifts the timeline back to her birth and college days.
‘Dear Old Shiz’ is a number which helps give a smooth transition from Elphaba’s birth to her time at the Shiz University. The track provides stage time to the student characters to enter and establish the feel of an educational institution.
‘What is this Feeling’ is a very important song on the album as it is this track that marks the beginning of the friendship between the two rival witches of the Land of Oz.
The track ‘Popular’ is one in which Glinda specifies the dos and don’ts of what it takes to be popular. It depicts the self-absorbed nature of her character. In a way it sets the standards of what Elphaba should aim to be like. The song is in contrast to her reputation of a principle-driven witch.
Other songs on Wicked’s album include ‘March of the Witch-Hunters,’ ‘I’m Not That Girl,’ ‘Dancing Through Life,’ ‘The Wizard and I’ ‘Sentimental Man,’ ‘One Short Day, ‘Defying Gravity,’ ‘As Long As You Are Mine, ‘For Good’ and ‘Finale.’
Original Broadway Production
Wicked premiered on Broadway at the Gershwin Theatre in October, 2003 and became an instant hit. Back then the lead characters of Glinda and Elphaba were played by the now very well-known actors Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth. The rest of the original cast comprised a mix of veterans and new actors. Idina has also won a Tony Award for her performance as Elphaba. The current Broadway show stars Carrie St. Louis and Rachel Tucker.
West End Production
The West End production of Wicked preimiered at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in February, 2006. It became the tenth longest running show in West End history in June, 2014. Keeping the British target audience in mind, slight modifications were made in the dialogues and choreography of the musical that went on to become an integral part of all Wicked productions. Just like in Broadway, Idina Menzel took on the role of Elphaba in the West End production as well. She was succeeded by Kerry Ellis who became the first British actress to take on the role of Elphaba in both West End as well as Broadway productions.
Other Productions & Tours Wicked the musical has been translated into five different languages and entertained more than fifty million fans in around fourteen countries. Among these are Australia, Japan, Mexico, UK and the US.
The German production of the musical was renamed ‘Wicked: Die Hexen von Oz’ and opened at the Paladium Theater in Stuttgart in November, 2007. The cast featured Lucy Scherer as Glinda and Willemijn Verkaik as Elphaba.
A fourteen-month long Dutch-language production of the musical ran at the Circustheater in Scheveningen, The Netherlands. The character of Elphaba was performed by Willemijn Verkaik who became the first female actor to play the role in two different languages.
Wicked Wins the Race Among Broadway Musicals
Recently Wicked the Musical hit the $1 billion mark on the Broadway box office. It has moved ahead of the popular plays like ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘The Lion King’ to become the fastest Broadway production to achieve this feat. Throughout its long run, the musical has either been near or at the stop of the Broadway weekly sales chart.
Since its Broadway premiere in 2003, Wicked has received a plethora of nominations and has also been winning awards almost every year. So far it has ten Tony Awards, eleven Drama Desk Awards, a Grammy and several other prestogious awards to its credit.
Commercial Success Rebuts Critics’ Reviews
The spectacular musical that has broken several box office records was initially met with a great deal of criticism when it first hit the theatres back in 2003. Newsday described it as an “overproduced, overblown, confusingly dark and laboriously ambitious jumble,” the New Yorker stated that “The show’s twenty-two songs were written by Stephen Schwartz, and not one of them is memorable.” One of the most renowned publications, The New York Times went so far as to say that “Wicked does not, alas, speak hopefully for the future of the Broadway musical.” About thirteen years down the line, the box office records, revenues and millions of theatergoers tell a different story than what the critics had perceived of Wicked. With over 38 million theatergoers and $3.1 billion in ticket sales, this is one musical that has redefined the future of Broadway musicals.
When asked for a response to the criticism on the musical in 2006, Stephen Schwartz stated, “What can I say? Reviews are reviews.... I know we divided the critics. We didn't divide the audience, and that's what counts.”
Did You Know • In the original novel of L. Frank Baum, the Wicked Witch does not have a name. Gregory Maguire came up with the name Elphaba by using Baum’s initials, L.F.B. • Known for its special effects, the musical takes up as much electricity power as used to supply twelve houses. Apart from this, approximately 250 pounds of ice is used to create the dramatic fog effect. • Not many know that Idina Menzel who is known to have originated the role of Elphaba actually went home in tears when she auditioned for the role. Her voice cracked badly on the track ‘Defying Gravity.’ However, she was still chosen for the role and went on to win a Tony Award for the ‘Best Actress in a Musical.’ • Owing to the popularity of the show, Elphaba’s broom and costume are on display at the American Stories exhibit at Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. • Winnie Holzman is also the writer of one of the most popular TV shows of recent times, ‘My So-Called Life.’ • For even a very successful production it usually takes two to three years to recover the original investment. Wicked was able to recoup the $14 million put into its making in just fourteen months.
Wicked On Tour The tenth longest running Broadway musical is once again on a North American tour and is still running at the Gershwin Theatre. If you haven’t watched the musical yet, then you are missing out on a whole lot of fun. And if you have, then return to the theatres to watch the latest modifications in the production. So without delaying another day, get your Wicked tickets and watch what has been called ‘Broadway’s biggest blockbuster’ by the New York Times.