Defying Gravity (and Time): Why we still love Wicked ten years later
by Olivia Atwood on Friday, September 21st, 2012
Right now, I am doing a happy dance. Why, you might ask? Well, I am writing this in the car as I head to the Broadway show Wicked in New York City. The last time I saw it was when I was eleven years old, and I still have an entire playlist on my iPod devoted to songs from the show. I can recite lines from all the songs, from “Dancing Through Life” to “Loathing” to “Popular” to “For Good” to “Defying Gravity.” In fact, I just straight up belted “Just you and I, defy-ing GRAVITY…” at the top of my lungs much to the surprise and probably horror of the Spanish exchange students sitting in the front of the car. Not to mention that I cried, as I always do, upon listening to “For Good,” and startled the entire vehicle yet again. Needless to say, I’m pretty darn excited to be headed to see my all-time-favorite show for the second time.
Wicked is essentially a musical retelling of the classic Wizard of Oz story, with a major twist: The story is told from the perspective of Elphaba, or the Wicked Witch of the West. The show debuted in San Francisco in June of 2003, and has been playing ever since. I would guess that almost 80% of the people at Milton Academy have seen it at least once, maybe even twice. Wicked is a classic: a show that lives on. The very fact that I can remember the set and dance numbers nearly seven years after I last saw it is a testament to its longevity. Not many shows can claim to still be entertaining audiences of all ages as their ten-year anniversary rolls around. The musical has broken every box office record, holding the highest all time weekly grossing show in several blockbuster locations around the country, and Wikipedia states that the show has drawn a total of nearly two million viewers worldwide.
The real question is, what makes Wicked work? As a dedicated Broadway fan, I cannot say that all the shows I have seen have haunted me in quite the same way as Wicked does. I would first point to the absolutely brilliant original cast as a tremendous factor in the show’s success. Stacked with sensations like Idina Menzel, Kristen Chenoweth (pre-falling out) and Norbert Leo Butz, the original cast was mind-blowing. The chemistry of the characters was off the charts. Additionally, the musical numbers are both catchy and poignant. Most importantly, however, is the familiarity of the show.
We, as people, like things that we know and understand, and Wicked certainly fits the bill. When I first saw it as a fifth grader, I fell in love. I don’t think I was able to sit still for a moment, kneeling on my seat and gasping, “That’s the scarecrow! Oh my gosh, there’s the Wicked Witch!” Wicked successfully takes something we know well and puts it on display from a different perspective. I don’t mean to preach, but Wicked does what I hope we can someday learn to do: move us and put us in someone else’s shoes.
Wicked exemplifies how point of view really changes everything. Everything has a back-story; every person has a unique perspective that could change yours. Nothing is ever two dimensional, and Wicked illustrates that principle with effortless beauty. There are always layers to every story, always twists in the background. As we enter this year at Milton, let’s remember that. Nothing is only one sided, ever. Remember Glinda the good witch’s side of the story when someone doesn’t send you their part of the homework, because you never know what’s really going on with them. Think of how misunderstood the Wicked Witch was when you get annoyed with the teacher who doesn’t have time for you. (And I’m not implying that teacher’s are wicked. Only some of them. Just kidding. I just mean you don’t know what’s going on in their lives. So don’t judge them.) All I’m saying is, we can learn a little from Wicked as it approaches its tenth anniversary.
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