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‘Wicked’ puts new spin on women of ‘Oz’
BY JOHN BERGER / firstname.lastname@example.org
A common human reaction to a horrible crime or an act of “senseless violence” is to look for something that explains why the perpetrator did it. Was he under extreme emotional stress? Did she feel unappreciated or disrespected at work? Was the “bad guy” a victim of childhood bullying himself?
L. Frank Baum never provided an explanation for the evil deeds of the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz.” So novelist Gregory Maguire did it for him with a revisionist take on the story, “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.”
Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
When: Opens 7:30 p.m. Thursday; continues at various times Tuesdays-Sundays through Jan. 12; also at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 7
Info: 800-745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com
A limited number of orchestra seats will be available for $25 via a lottery before each performance of “Wicked.” Participants must go to the Blaisdell box office 2 1/2 hours before showtime to enter: names will be picked 30 minutes later. Winners are limited to two tickets, cash only. Photo ID needed for entry and purchase.
Maguire’s novel, a “prequel” to Baum’s iconic opus, became the inspiration for award-winning composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz’s Broadway blockbuster, “Wicked.”
Schwartz, whose stage and film credits include “Godspell” and “Pippin” and who won Academy Awards for “Pocahontas” and “The Prince of Egypt,” discovered Maguire’s book in 1996 while he was vacationing in Hawaii.
THE “WICKED WITCH” in Maguire’s novel starts out as a sweet young girl named Elphaba whose green skin and strong moral compass set her apart from other inhabitants of Oz.
After Elphaba is blamed for deeds for which the Wizard also shares responsibility, she turns “wicked.”
Maguire rewrites Glinda, the future Good Witch of the North, as a beautiful and ambitious blonde named Galinda.
The relationship between Galinda/Glinda and Elphaba is complicated, to say the least — by the difference in their natures as well as a star-crossed romance.
The Wizard of Oz is a corrupt and sinister figure, rather than the kindly, well-meaning con man portrayed by Frank Morgan in the iconic 1939 film.
Maguire’s novel had already been optioned for development as a dramatic film when Schwartz discovered it.
Schwartz found the story — Oz from the witch’s viewpoint — instantly intriguing for several reasons.
“Some of them are obvious,” Schwartz said, by phone from his home in Connecticut.
It was the first day of November, two days after superstorm Sandy trashed much of the East Coast. There was no power in the area, but Schwartz’s home had a generator and running water, so he was at work.
“(There’s) the Oz location,” he explained, “(and) the fact that I like to do stories that take a familiar story or characters and spin it, and look at it from another point of view, and that’s obviously what was happening here. The philosophical content … appearances versus reality. What is ‘wicked’ and what is ‘good’?
“And then I just felt an intrinsic affinity for the character” of Elphaba, he said. “Thinking about her as being the protagonist, instead of being the unnamed antagonist, put her in a whole new light.”
SCHWARTZ became passionate about “Wicked,” and contacted Maguire and Universal Studios president Marc Platt, convincing them that the story could best be presented as a Broadway musical, rather than a film. Platt became a co-producer of the show.
Winnie Holzman, an early fan of the novel whose writing credits include television’s “My So-Called Life,” “Once and Again” and “thirtysomething,” wrote the show’s “book,” distilling Maguire’s elaborate, 400-page-plus novel.
Tony Award winner Joe Mantello (“Take Me Out,” “Love! Valour! Compassion!” “The Vagina Monologues”) was brought in to direct, and Tony Award winner Wayne Cilento (“Aida,” “The Who’s Tommy”) staged the musical numbers.
“Wicked” “departs quite a bit” from the novel, Schwartz noted. “But it was always our intention to use it as a jumping-off point and an inspiration,” he said, “and that’s precisely what its author, Gregory Maguire, encouraged us to do.”
“Before I read the book, I knew I wanted to adapt it,” Schwartz revealed.
When he and Holzman read the novel, “We read it thinking, ‘What can we use from this book that will be work for our story?’”All the major characters exist in the novel and, pretty much, their relationships — though we invented some of that. It was more a matter of culling things as source material.”
Fans of Baum’s original Oz novels know that his stories include a significant amount of political subtext regarding the social and political issues of the early 20th century.
Maguire’s novel, written in the early ’90s, followed that lead, using events in his version of Oz to parallel contemporary concerns.
“In Gregory’s original book, the Wizard is sort of Nixonian in some ways, (and) Oz is much more of a fascist state. It’s much more totalitarian than we make it,” Schwartz said.
“The Wizard and the people around him manipulate public opinion. The difference between the facade that’s being presented and what’s actually going on is pretty remarkable — and also, I think, pretty common — and yet that’s something that seems quite difficult for people to recognize.”
SCHWARTZ SAID the musical’s take on the Wizard evolved as the Bill Clinton sex scandals of the ’90s were followed by Sept. 11, 2001, and the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq. Oz became a darker and more totalitarian place.
“During the Bush administration there was so much difference between the stories that were being told and what was actually going on,” Schwartz said. “It was pretty easy to be influenced by that. … But we weren’t trying to do a political tract or espouse a particular point of view.
“The character of the Wizard is somewhat Clintonian, but also Bush. It’s not like he belongs to one American political party.”
Though the show “does involve some degree of social commentary,” Schwartz said, “I think the central appeal is obviously the character of Elphaba and her journey, and her relationship with Glinda. …
“People come to ‘Wicked’ from their own point of view, and they have their own experience with the show.
“I think that’s one of the things that’s made the show successful: It has broad appeal to people because it has so much contained within it.”