Ann met Kelly and me in Charlotte today for the long awaited chance to see ‘Wicked’, the musical adaptation of the Gregory Maguire novel. Again, I had no sense of what to expect, not having heard any of the show music.
I’d read the novel years ago, a retelling of the story of Oz from the perspective of the Witch of the West, with a rather marvelous fleshing out of her backstory, motivation, and place in the the social and political history of Oz. As Kelly said to me of Maguire’s book, after the show, “Well, it’s a total tragedy! Dark as can be!”
The musical, naturally enough, couldn’t let that be, and so it’s been rendered as a kind of bizarre “buddy story”, with the main focus on Elbetha’s relationships with her school roommate, Galinda, the Good Witch of the North, and her paraplegic sister.
The oddest thing for me was how moving the story was, despite the gags, visual humor, and pratfalls. It’s a story about dealing with deep alienation, hopeless friendship, and a truly unfortunate cultural and political milieu. Oz will remind you of Kansas every time. It’s a tale of radicalization and ill-fated protest. Elbetha’s story is one of an unhappy coming of age.
The musical perverts Maguire’s tragic conclusion with a Hollywood sunset escape, and that’s done no harm to the work presented, but you have to worry about the sensibilities of anyone approaching the novel having seen the musical first. Taken from the perspective of reader first, and then theatre-goer, it’s a wonderful and evocative show, full of importance. I hope all my friends can see it some day.