Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Judy's Over the Rainbow - and so is Elphaba

This will probably be one of my odder blog posts, but the coincidences compel me to discuss a recent screening of the much loved The Wizard of Oz along with Wicked.  We literally saw the two within one week of each other, so we ventured into the play with a totally clear vision of the 1939 classic in our heads.

I'm sure you are all familiar with the plot of The Wizard of Oz.  It's a film I grew up with - it was aired once a year (usually around Thanksgiving), and though my father was not a fan of musicals, the decks were cleared so my brother and I could watch it.  I recall being terrified when the image of the Wicked Witch of the West replaced that of Auntie Em in the giant crystal ball.  Interestingly, at a discussion of the film I attended a few months ago, the speaker said that he found that women/girls were frightened by the crystal ball, while men/boys related their fear of the flying monkeys!  We watched on a black and white TV set, and, since I grew up on 1930s and 1940s b&w movies, it was a revelation to me when, seeing it on a big screen for the very first time, Dorothy opened the door to COLOR.  I was able to live the experience that must have greeted most viewers in 1939!
Then there is Wicked, the story of Oz BEFORE Dorothy's arrival, loosely based on the book by Gregory Maguire.  It tells the story of Oz from the point of view of the woman who will become the Wicked Witch of the West.  Born green - the result of her mother's imbibing a "green elixir," which she acquired from the soon-to-be Wizard of Oz - the child Elphaba Thropp is despised by her parents.  Nevertheless, she is a loving woman, devoted to her crippled sister, Nessarose, and eager to please her father (her mother died giving birth to Nessarose).  She accompanies her sister to Shiz University, where the headmistress, Madame Morrible, discovers that it is Elphaba who has the talent to be a witch, not the pouty Nessarose.  And while Elphaba is eager to work with the Wizard of Oz, she is horrified to discover that he is merely a talentless bigot, who is systematically destroying Oz by turning the inhabitants against one another.  He has started by enslaving the talking animals of Oz.  Why? Because a common enemy unites people.  The Wizard intends to make Elphaba a tool in his further efforts to subjugate Oz, but Elphaba will have none of it, and by "defying gravity", she escapes to begin an organized resistance against his rule.
I had seen Wicked several years ago, when Idina Menzel was still playing Elphaba. This time, Elphaba was enacted by Caroline Bowman, an amazing singer and actress.  The role of Glinda was ably filled by Kara Lindsay, who gave Elphaba's description of Galinda's personality ("blonde"...) a whole new meaning (and no, that is not a misspellling.  Galinda changes her name to Glinda).  All in all, it's a wonderful cast in an amazing production, and if you find yourself in New York, or with access to a traveling version of the play, try to see it.

What the play does is tell us how the various characters came to be - from the Wicked Witch of the West, Glinda, and the Wizard, to the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, and Scarecrow.  We even find out why those damned shoes are so important to the Wicked Witch.  We never actually SEE Dorothy, though we find out she is there (and that Elphaba finds her and her dog "Dodo" REALLY annoying).  Nevertheless, Dorothy is a key ingredient to the success of the story.  As the story ends, you will begin to see how tightly Wicked and The Wizard of Oz link to one another. 

So let's end this post with a little music - first, the ever wonderful Judy Garland sings Over the Rainbow

And the ladies from Wicked sing about their friendship in For Good.

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